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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

When I teach nutrition, I always emphasize the importance of breakfast.  Break – fast really means to break the fast.  Our bodies have been “fasting” since dinner the night before and we need to refuel.  Some recent research from Harvard (Circulation) highlights how important eating breakfast every day is to our overall health.  Researchers at Harvard University studied 26,902 males over age 44 and asked them if they ate or skipped breakfast.  About 13% of the men studied were breakfast skippers.  Over the next 16 years, 1,527 of the men suffered from fatal or non-fatal heart attacks.  The breakfast skippers were 27% more likely to have coronary heart disease than the men that ate breakfast.  Eating late at night was also not good for one’s health.  The men that were late night eaters had a 55% higher risk of coronary heart disease.   The researchers conclude that eating breakfast can help prevent heart disease but other research is needed to confirm their findings.  Since women were not included in this study, more research on women is needed to see if eating breakfast also helps protect them from heart disease. 
Skipping breakfast has long been associated with health problems such as being overweight, high blood pressure, resistance to insulin, and higher levels of fat in our blood.  The senior author of the Harvard, Eric Rimm,  study noted (The Reporter), “Men who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, to develop diabetes, to have hypertension, and to have high cholesterol.”

So why would eating breakfast help prevent against heart disease?  Some theorize that skipping breakfast leads one to eat more and larger meals later in the day.  This can lead to higher blood sugar levels and more fat to digest at one time.   Others note that one may skip breakfast only to snack on candy bars or other sweets mid-morning, replacing a healthy breakfast with junk food snacks.  

So take time to eat breakfast.  Even a glass of orange juice and a granola bar is better than skipping breakfast.  Better yet, have some fresh fruit, whole grain cereal,  whole grain toast  and a yogurt.  I always encourage my students to have something for breakfast.  Even grabbing a banana as they rush out the door would be better than skipping breakfast entirely.

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