Your mother was right; it is important to start your day with a good breakfast. But the hearty feast of bacon and eggs that you may remember from your youth is hardly a good start by today's standards, and the doughnut and coffee of today's fast-paced world are no better.
A good breakfast can lend a hand with a successful workout. Without proper fuel, glycogen and blood-glucose levels can fall to dangerously low levels, which will affect your energy levels when you're running.
Cereal: the heart of the matter
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Cereal is a great choice for breakfast but, only if you choose the right one. Unfortunately, most cereals are made from refined grains, and many are laced with extra sugar. Don't be misled by bold print that boasts about vitamins, minerals, or even whole grains. You should focus on two criteria: fiber content and personal preference. Look for a cereal that provides at least 6 grams of fiber per portion — 10-12 grams would be even better. You'll still need lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds later in the day to meet your target of 25-30 grams.
Bread and toast are American breakfast traditions. If you like them, choose whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, which have a low glycemic index. Bran muffins are tricky; some are high in fat, and most provide only a few grams of fiber. Bagels are low in fat (unless you cover them with cream cheese) but very low in fiber. Overall, there's nothing wrong with any of these baked goods — unless they displace your breakfast cereal.
Breakfast spreads present opportunities as well as perils. Avoid the regular use of butter (saturated fat) and stick margarine (trans fat). Honey and jam have no fat but are too sugary for daily use in large amounts. Soft margarine from a tub is acceptable, but plant stanol margarines such as Benecol® and Promise® are even better since regular use will help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
The best diets include at least two to four portions of fruit a day. Breakfast presents a great opportunity to take the first step toward that goal. Pick the fruits you like best; there are no bad choices.
Conflicting messages have scrambled the traditional wisdom about eggs, and modern nutritional science has not yet cracked the problem. An average egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol and 5 grams of fat, virtually all in the yolk. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a daily consumption of just 300 mg or less of cholesterol, or 200 mg for people with high blood cholesterols. It's a sound recommendation, and it's taken eggs off the heart-healthy breakfast table. Fortunately, egg substitutes can be used to make fine baked goods and even omelets and scrambled "eggs."
Watch the sugar and fat content of what you drink with your breakfast. Choose low- or non-fat milk for your cereal, coffee, and tea. If you drink juice, look for those that are not made from concentrate and have no added sugars or high fructose corn syrup. Caffeinated beverages are also okay unless you experience unpleasant side effects such as heartburn, palpitations, or headaches.
There is little debate about the healthfulness of some of the other breakfast choices. Doughnuts, croissants, waffles, and fried potatoes have too much fat. Processed meats, including bacon, ham, and sausage, have too much fat and salt. And the fast food breakfasts have too much of everything (except, of course, fiber).
Breakfast and your belly
Many people assume that skipping meals will help them lose weight. It's not true, particularly if the missed meal is breakfast. For example, a study of 16,452 American adults found that breakfast eaters were leaner than breakfast skippers — and people who ate cereal for breakfast were leaner than those who ate meat or eggs. A study of 2,831 young adults agreed, finding that people who ate breakfast regularly were only half as likely to be obese as those who usually skipped it. And a smaller Massachusetts study reported that skipping breakfast was associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of obesity. Not surprisingly, eating breakfast at home was more beneficial than eating out.
A good breakfast is an ideal way to start changing to a healthful diet. The food choices are simple, and you can measure your progress quite easily. Experiment until you find a healthful breakfast you can really enjoy. And if you eat right and stay healthy, you can afford to "cheat" from time to time.