By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, R.D., M.P.H., Best Life nutritionist
It's not just some overused cliché—breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. It's well documented that people who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate and focus during the day. Breakfast eaters also have a better cholesterol profile and a reduced risk for developing diabetes. And of course, countless studies link breakfast to a healthy weight, including a new Taiwanese study that found that the more often people ate breakfast, the less likely they were to be obese.
Why is breakfast such a boon for dieters? Sending some quality calories (read: not just a piece of toast and a cup of coffee) into your system first thing causes your groggy metabolism to pick up the pace from the slower clip it was operating on while you were catching some Z's. Although you might be tempted to skimp on calories in the morning, either because you're not all that hungry or you're trying to save them for later, eating breakfast works to your advantage because you start the efficient calorie-burning clock early in the day. The result: You can burn more calories at a higher rate for a longer period of time than if you had skipped out on breakfast. When you're watching the scales, that's a definite bonus!
Also, heading off hunger (even if you don't feel particularly hungry first thing) can keep your appetite in check later in the day, which can help you avoid temptation, usally in the form of fast food burgers and fries, pastries in the break room, or your co-worker's candy stash. If you've had a healthy and filling breakfast, your stomach won't be rumbling, and you'll be able to keep your mind on your work instead.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, not just any breakfast will do—some breakfast foods are better than others. For instance, researchers from St. Louis University in Missouri found that people who followed a low-fat, low-calorie diet and ate an egg breakfast enjoyed a 65 percent greater weight loss than people who followed the same type of diet and ate a bagel breakfast instead. The lesson? A breakfast that contains lean protein can help quell hunger, so be picky about what you eat. Skip the doughnuts, pastries and refined cereal that will leave you in a hungry haze long before lunch. Instead, try pairing a good carb (to provide a quick burst of energy after your body has been "fasting" overnight) with a lean protein source (to boost satiety). For instance, have a whole-grain, fruit or vegetable with an egg, or yogurt or milk (both of which actually contain a combo of protein and carbs).
A breakfast classic—cereal and milk topped with fruit—is another healthy way to start the day. Just make sure your cereal has 5 grams of sugar or less per serving and the milk is fat-free or one percent. Whole-grain toaster waffles, fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt also makes for a nutritious, filling breakfast. If slowing down to eat breakfast at the table seems like a tall order, it's also simple to create quick power pairs with only a few key ingredients, like whole grain, low-sugar cereal; whole-grain bread, tortillas or flatbread; individual cartons of low-fat yogurt; fat-free or one-percent milk; reduced-fat cottage or sliced cheese; fresh fruit; nuts or nut butters; eggs or liquid eggs. Using these ingredients, you can whip up the following healthy breakfast combinations, which can be eaten on the run, at the table or at your desk:
• Trail mix: Combine ¼ cup of pistachios, 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries and ½ cup of Cheerios and serve with a fat-free latte.
• Egg wrap and smoothie: Scramble ½ cup of Better'n Eggs, top with ½ ounce of two-percent milk cheese and a dollop of salsa, and wrap in a Best Life approved Flatout flatbread wrap. Serve with a smoothie made from Silk Vanilla 100 calorie soymilk and berries.
• Yogurt parfait: Mix low-fat yogurt with a chopped apple and whole-grain cereal.
• Whole-grain English muffin and peanut butter. Spread a whole-wheat English muffin with Smart Balance Rich Roast Creamy Peanut Butter, and serve with 1 apple and 1 cup of fat-free milk.