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Breakfast: Is It the Most Important Meal?

Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism, helping you burn calories throughout the day. It also gives you the energy you need to get things done and helps you focus at work or at school. Those are just a few reasons why it’s the most important meal of the day.

Many studies have linked eating breakfast to good health, including better memory and concentration, lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, and lower chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, and being overweight.

It’s hard to know, though, if breakfast causes these healthy habits or if people who eat it have healthier lifestyles. 

But this much is clear: Skipping the morning meal can throw off your body’s rhythm of fasting and eating. When you wake up, the blood sugar your body needs to make your muscles and brain work their best is usually low. Breakfast helps replenish it.

If your body doesn’t get that fuel from food, you may feel zapped of energy -- and you'll be more likely to overeat later in the day. 

Breakfast also gives you a chance to get in some vitamins and nutrients from healthy foods like dairy, grains, and fruits. If you don’t eat it, you aren’t likely to get all of the nutrients your body needs.

Many people skip the a.m. meal because they’re rushing to get out the door. That’s a mistake. You need food in your system long before lunchtime.  If you don’t eat first thing, you may get so hungry later on that you snack on high-fat, high sugar foods.

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Breakfast and Your Weight

Can a morning meal be good for your waistline? Some studies say yes. 

Researchers have found that, on average, people who eat breakfast are thinner than those who don’t. That could be because eating foods with protein and fiber in the morning keeps your appetite in check the rest of the day.

But it doesn’t guarantee you’ll fit into those skinny jeans. A recent study compared weight loss among people who ate breakfast with those with didn’t. The meal didn’t make any difference.

If you’re dieting, don’t think cutting calories by skipping the meal will help. Studies show that most people who lose weight and keep the weight off eat breakfast every day. 

On the other hand, you need to pay attention to what, when, and how much you eat.  One study showed that people who had large breakfasts ate more during the day.

Why Kids Need Breakfast

Sometimes children don’t feel like eating in the morning, but it’s important that they do. Their growing bodies need the nutrients and fuel.

Kids who don’t eat in the a.m. have a harder time focusing, and they become more tired in school. They may also be cranky or restless. And it isn’t just their moods that can suffer. Their school work can, too. One study showed that kids who ate breakfast had higher test scores than those who didn’t. Most children don’t get all the vitamins and minerals they need from just lunch and dinner.

Kids who skip breakfast are more likely to eat junk food during the day and be overweight. One study showed that teenagers who ate breakfast every day had a lower body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of body fat based on height and weight -- than teens who never ate the meal or who sometimes did.

If your youngster doesn’t want to eat in the morning at home, pack something he can have on the way to school or between classes. Opt for fruit, nuts, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

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A Doughnut Won’t Do

You don’t need to eat a big meal for breakfast, but it’s a good idea to have something small within an hour of waking up. Even last night’s leftovers zapped in the microwave will do.

Resist that pastry or doughnut, though. Your best bet is a mix of foods that have carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Carbs will give you energy right away, and the protein will give you it later on. Fiber keeps you feeling full.

Try a whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk and fruit, or a breakfast smoothie made from low-fat yogurt, fruit, and a teaspoon of bran. Nuts or whole-grain granola bars are also easy options.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on February 23, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

KidsHealth.org: “Breakfast Basics.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Breaking the Fast.”

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Breakfast.”

Kaiser Permanente: “The Importance of Eating a Good Breakfast.”

American Diabetes Association: “The Importance of Breakfast.”

Brown, A.W. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online Sept. 4, 2013.

University of Alabama at Birmingham: “The Breakfast Debate: New Study Determines Whether It Helps With Weight Loss.”

The Hospital for Sick Children: “The Importance of a Healthy Breakfast.”

American Academy of Pediatricians: “The Case for Eating Breakfast.”

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