By Jessica Decostole
Get healthier by lunchtime—here's how.
More than 30 percent of us start our days on an empty stomach. "People think they don't have time for breakfast, or that skipping it will help shed extra pounds," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet (the "F" stands for "fiber"). "But both are completely untrue." In fact, people who do eat a morning meal are nearly 50 percent less likely to be obese than those who don't, according to a Harvard University study. Here, more ways breakfast can boost your health, plus how to fit it into your busy life.
Breakfast bonus #1: It gives you the nutrients you need.
Skipping breakfast makes it a lot harder to get the recommended daily dose of most vitamins and nutrients. Morning meals such as whole-grain cereal with milk and low-fat yogurt with granola provide calcium and fiber (nutrients many Americans are deficient in). "Breakfast is the healthiest meal most people eat," says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet. "And breakfast eaters tend to have a healthier diet overall."
Breakfast bonus #2: It can help you lose weight.
When your body goes without food, it burns calories slowly to conserve energy. Eating after an overnight fast jump-starts your metabolism, which means more efficient calorie burning all day, says Zuckerbrot. But what you eat is key. Simple carbohydrates (like a doughnut or most cereal bars) make your glucose (blood sugar) spike and then drop, leaving you starving by 11 a.m. and craving sugary foods, says Somer. A smarter start: complex carbs like oatmeal or whole-grain toast. High in fiber and low in sugar, they digest slowly, providing steady energy to keep you full and minimize cravings.
Breakfast bonus #3: It'll boost your brainpower.
Students who ate breakfast scored an average of 22 percent higher on word-recall tests than those who didn't, according to a University of Wales-Swansea study. When you wake up, much of your energy—in the form of glucose and glycogen (stored glucose)—has been used up since yesterday. Glucose is the only fuel used by your brain, says Somer, so without it, you'll feel fatigued and mentally fuzzy.
Breakfast bonus #4: It can help protect you from disease.
Healthy women who skipped breakfast for two weeks developed higher levels of "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol than women who ate a bowl of fiber-rich whole-grain cereal with milk, according to a recent study. Fiber binds with cholesterol and speeds its excretion—before it reaches your arteries, says Zuckerbrot. Because of this, high fiber intake has been linked to an almost 50 percent reduction in heart disease over 10 years, according to the Harvard Nurses' Health Study. Research also suggests that fiber helps shuttle excess estrogen out of the body—good news, since elevated levels can up breast cancer risk.
What to Eat
A healthy breakfast should contain at least 5 grams of fiber, one serving of calcium (equal to a cup of milk or yogurt), and some protein and fat. Also, limit added sugars to about 6 grams (1 teaspoon equals 4 grams). The following meal suggestions fit the bill.
If you're on the run:
Order a latte with skim milk and grab a Gnu Foods Flavor & Fiber Bar (available at gnufoods.com).
If you have a few minutes:
Pour a bowl of cereal such as Kashi GoLean, Post Original Shredded Wheat 'n Bran, or Barbara's Bakery Original Puffins with skim milk. Toss in some thawed frozen berries.
If you're at your desk:
Bring a Polly-O cheese stick and eat with a serving of whole-grain crackers and a glass of tomato juice.
If you like to prepare the night before:
Put your favorite fruits and low-fat yogurt in a blender and stash in the fridge. In the morning, simply blend and pour into a to-go cup.
Not Hungry in the Morning?
Stop eating after 8 o'clock at night—within two to three weeks your body's appetite clock will reset and you'll wake up hungry, suggests Zuckerbrot.
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