How Important Is Breakfast?
Starting the body the right way gives you a head start on the day
Abigail Scallan McAlister
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? It’s tough to label one meal as more important than the others because all meals make up the larger picture of our diet. Every meal is equally important in providing us with the nutrients we need. While there is not one meal that ranks supreme, each meal has its own benefits. Eating a healthy breakfast can help refuel your body and provide some essential nutrients that we often don’t consume enough of.
A regular morning meal made up of healthy choices can also lead to healthier body weight, better concentration and performance during the day, and a reduced risk for chronic disease.
The ideal breakfast is one that includes healthy choices from at least three different food groups. The five food groups include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein, so choose foods from three or more of these groups to build a balanced plate. Try including protein-rich foods or whole grains to help make your meal more sustainable, and include at least one fruit or vegetable serving to provide extra fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy is also packed with calcium and vitamin D, which promotes healthy bones. To ensure you are getting a variety of different nutrients, change up your breakfast routine. A new routine can be as simple as changing your fruit from bananas to blueberries one day a week, or as complex as trying a few new recipes.
When building your breakfast, choose foods from each group that are nutrient-dense and low in sodium, saturated fats and added sugars. Aim for lean protein foods like eggs, nuts and seeds, nut butter, legumes, low-fat or fat-free milk, and low-fat or fat-free yogurt (aim for choices with little or no added sugars). Turkey bacon can be a leaner substitute for bacon, but many varieties are loaded with sodium, so be sure to read the nutrition facts label.
Choose whole grains, like oatmeal, corn tortillas and whole wheat bread, bagels, waffles, tortillas and English muffins instead of refined grains. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals and fiber than their refined counterparts. Try to limit breakfast cereals, bars and pastries that are high in added sugars. Fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables can all be great choices, but aim for products without added sugar or sodium.
Most Americans don’t eat enough vegetables or fruits, so making a conscious effort to include them in every meal can help us reach our goal of five servings per day. Some may not think of vegetables as a “breakfast food,” but these nutrient-rich foods deserve a place on the plate. Vegetables can be added to egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches and tacos, smoothies, breakfast bowls and savory toasts. Fruits are a healthy and easy addition to our breakfast routine, as they can be eaten plain or mixed in cereal, yogurt, oatmeal and smoothies.
Not into eating first thing in the morning? Breakfast can be flexible in regards to timing and portions. If you’re better off waiting an hour or two before eating, then eat when you’re ready. If you don’t have a large appetite in the morning, a small snack like a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts or a glass of milk is just fine, too. The important thing is that you listen to your body and your choices are healthy.
If breakfast food isn’t your fancy, there’s no reason why you can’t dine on a typical “lunch” or “dinner” food. A sandwich, soup or last night’s leftovers could make a nutritious breakfast.
Choices made in the morning can set the tone for the entire day. A balanced breakfast is a great way to start your day with a healthy mindset. Research shows that people who regularly eat a balanced breakfast tend to perform better at work, have tighter control of their blood sugar levels, eat more vitamins and minerals, and make healthier food choices throughout the day. Balance, variety and nutrient-rich foods are the keys to a wholesome, sustaining breakfast.
Abigail McAlister is an asssistant extension agent (general nutrition) for the LSU AgCenter. Her main focus is adult nutrition education and promotion in Caddo and Bossier parishes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.