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Take It In: Navigate the breakfast dilemma

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

To eat breakfast or not? A new study published in the January issue of the British Medical Journal has threatened to overturn the ages-old wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Or at least vital when it comes to preventing unwanted weight gain. The truth is, it’s what you eat, not if you eat this morning meal that counts.

In this study, Australian researchers combed through medical databases from January 1990 to January 2018 for randomized controlled trials that looked at the effect of breakfast on either body weight or energy (calorie) intake. They found 13 total. Despite admitting that the quality of these studies was low, with either non-blind conditions or short follow-ups, the authors’ tentative conclusion made headlines. That is, that eating breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss. What’s more, that eating breakfast could have the opposite effect and lead to weight gain.

Many studies have detailed benefits of eating something in the morning: better memory and concentration, improved heart health with lower  LDL cholesterol levels, stabilized blood sugar and a lower risk of diabetes. So, there’s no doubt eating breakfast is good. What the latest report lacked is key – a look at what the study subjects actually ate.

If you fork into a Homestead Breakfast – two eggs, two sausage patties, grits, cup of sausage gravy and two biscuits – at Bob Evans in the U.S., you’re eating over 1,500 calories. Ditto for the large breakfast – two fried eggs, bacon, two sausage, three hash browns, mushrooms, tomato, and two slices of bread – at JD Wetherspoon in the U.K. National health guidelines recommend 2,000 to 2,500 calories daily. Thus, eating such breakfasts on a regular basis certainly ups the risk for weight gain.

What is a healthful breakfast? First, watch portion size. Second, include at least three food groups. This can be protein or dairy, fruits and vegetables, and whole grain cereals. Third, choose nutritionally dense foods from these groups. Here are three great examples:

Protein: Eggs, one of the perennial favorites of breakfast, are an excellent choice. Some health professionals warn diners off eggs since the yolks are a potent source of cholesterol. But research published in a 2017 issue of Nutrition concluded that eating three eggs daily for 12 weeks didn’t increase the risk for heart disease – so long as they were part of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts. A veggie-stuffed omelet, poached egg over whole-grain toast, or scrambled eggs and smoked salmon are good breakfast bets.

Fruits & Vegetables: Eat an avocado at breakfast. U.S. researchers reported last fall in the journal Nutrients that subjects who replaced some of their carbohydrate at breakfast with avocado had a better level and type of fats in their blood – namely, lower triglycerides and higher HDL, or good cholesterol. The best breakfast menu featured one Hass avocado, half a bagel, fat-free cream cheese, cucumber, lettuce, butter, 1/4 cup of honeydew melon, and half a packet of instant maple-and-brown sugar-flavored oatmeal. The control meal, with fewer heart healthy effects, had no avocado, a whole bagel, an extra 1/4 cup of melon and a teaspoon of added brown sugar.

Breads & Cereals: Fill your bowl with high-fiber cereal. Researchers reported last year in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition that those who ate cereal at breakfast were much more likely to eat enough dietary fiber for the whole day. The benefit of eating plenty of fiber is that it produces a feeling of satiety or fullness, which can prevent overeating.

It is what – and how much – you eat for breakfast that likely has the biggest impact on health and body weight.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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