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The Benefits of Breakfast continued...

It makes sense: Eating early in the day keeps us from "starvation eating" later on. But it also jump-starts your metabolism, says Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, nutrition manager for the Duke Diet & Fitness Center at Duke University Medical School. "When you don't eat breakfast, you're actually fasting for 15 to 20 hours, so you're not producing the enzymes needed to metabolize fat to lose weight."

Among the people she counsels, breakfast eaters are usually those who have lost a significant amount of weight. They also exercise. "They say that before having breakfast regularly, they would eat most of their calories after 5 p.m.," Politi tells WebMD. "Now, they try to distribute calories throughout the day. It makes sense that the body wants to be fueled."

The Smart Breakfast

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it's best to make wise food choices. That's where fruits, vegetables, and whole grains come into the picture. Because these are high-fiber foods, they fill you up - yet they bring less fat to the table, says Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, the Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University in Pittsburgh and author of The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan.

These high-fiber foods allow you to eat more food yet get fewer calories. It's a concept called "energy density" - the number of calories in a specified amount of food, Rolls explains.

"Some foods - especially fats - are very energy dense, which means they have a lot of calories packed into a small size," Rolls tells WebMD. "However, foods that contain lots of water have very low energy density. Water itself has an energy density of zero. High-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains have low energy density."

Translation: If you eat foods with high energy density, such as bagels, you rack up calories quickly. If you eat high-fiber, low-energy-density foods - such as oatmeal, strawberries, walnuts, and low-fat yogurt -- you can eat more and get fewer calories.

A breakfast made up of 1 cup of oatmeal, 1/2lf cup of low-fat milk, 1 cup of sliced strawberries, and 1 tablespoon of walnuts has only 307 calories total. Two multi-grain waffles, with 1 cup of blueberries, 3 tablespoons of light syrup, and 1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt have about 450 calories total. That's almost equal to the standard bagel-and-cream-cheese breakfast - yet it's much more food, and much lower in fat.

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