Eat Breakfast, Lose Weight

The morning meal is the most important one for weight loss

From the WebMD Archives

People who are successful at maintaining a healthy weight have long known the value of eating breakfast. Breaking the fast after a night's sleep gets your metabolism perking, and is one of the secrets to weight loss.

In fact, breakfast can be the most important meal of the day -- especially if it consists of cereal. Research shows that people who frequently have cereal for breakfast tend to have healthier weights and lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who don't eat cereal, or who skip breakfast.

Breakfast and Your BMI

Overall, breakfast skippers have higher average BMIs than breakfast eaters, according to a 2003 study. This study also showed that people who ate cereal breakfasts tended to consume less total fat and cholesterol, and more fiber, than noncereal eaters.

Another study showed that people who skipped breakfast tended to eat more at lunch -- and throughout the day -- than breakfast-eaters.

Because cereal tends to be lower in calories and fat than many other traditional breakfast foods, having it for breakfast can help you lose weight. Of course, cutting calorie intake at any meal can reduce the overall calories you consume. But this is especially true of the morning meal, as calories eaten in the morning have been shown to be particularly satisfying.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which examined the diets of 4,218 adults, profiled breakfast eaters as older, white, nonsmoking, regular exercisers who are trying to control their weight. Survey results published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005 showed that breakfast-cereal eaters -- particularly women -- were more likely to have healthy BMIs of less than 25.

Important Nutrients

Not only do frequent cereal eaters eat less fat than their counterparts, their diets tend to be higher in important nutrients like calcium, iron, and zinc.

Cereal is considered a "vehicle food," because it's usually eaten with other nutritious foods like dairy products, fruit and/or nuts. A bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with low- or nonfat milk or yogurt, sliced fruit, and a few nuts contains a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber -- all for less than 250 calories.

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A balanced cereal breakfast helps give you the energy to get your day off to a great start. And protein and fiber give it enough staying power to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

Ready-to-eat cereals are usually fortified with nutrients like vitamin A, folate, iron, fiber, zinc, and magnesium -- nutrients that are typically lacking in the diets of many adults and children. The best part is that these nutrients are delivered for relatively few calories; most cereals have only 110-120 calories per serving.

More Breakfast Benefits

Eating breakfast is a healthy habit, whether you're in the boardroom or the classroom. Many studies have shown that both adults and children perform better when they start their day with breakfast.

Further, many members of the National Weight Control Registry -- a group of people who have shed at least 30 pounds and maintained their new weights for at least a year -- swear by breakfast.

In a survey of 2,959 members of this group, reported in Obesity Research, almost 90% reported eating breakfast most days of the week. Further, 60% said they always or usually ate cereal for breakfast. Breakfast appears to be part of the lifestyle that leads to successful weight loss and maintenance.

How Sweet It Is

I used to be obsessed with the amount of sugar in cereals. I would never purchase a box that had more than 5 grams of sugar per serving -- much to the chagrin of my kids. Then one day, I realized that even if a particular brand had more than my allowed grams of sugar, most contain 120 or fewer calories per serving. Sugar helps cereal taste good, and as long as the portion size is reasonable, the benefits of a cereal meal outweigh the added sugar, in my opinion.

According to the NHANES findings, presweetened cereals provide only 5% of the total sugar in kids' diets and 2.3% of the sugar in adult diets. Clearly, most of the sugar we take in is coming from less nutritious foods such as soft drinks, candy, and other treats.

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So explore the many cereal options on the grocer's shelf to find ones that you enjoy and that will help you meet your weight loss goals.

What could be easier -- or healthier -- than starting your day with a bowl of hot, steamy oatmeal or ready-to-eat cereal topped with your favorite low-fat dairy, fruit, and nuts?

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES: Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2003; 22:296-302. The Journal of Nutrition, 2004; vol 134: pp 104-111. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2005; vol 105: pp 1373-82. Obesity Research, 2002; vol 10: pp 78-82.

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