WHAT DOES THE EVIDENCE SHOW?Hungry children do not perform as well in school as their classmates who have breakfast. Eating before school starts leads to improved academic results, better classroom behavior, and a lower tendency to be sick later in the day. Based on this research, the US Federal government has established the subsidized School Breakfast Program to help assure that students start the day with food, regardless of their family circumstances.
Skipping breakfast is associated with a greater risk of being overweight or obese in both children and adults. People who skip breakfast are more likely to crave higher-calorie foods later in the day. Those who eat breakfast tend to burn more calories and be more physically active before lunch.
Studies have found other health risks of not eating breakfast include:
- Increased cardiac risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol
- Greater likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes
Why is eating breakfast so important? Researchers don't have a definitive answer, but the basics of human biology suggest a possible solution to this puzzle. Under ordinary circumstances, glucose (a type of sugar) is the only energy source your brain uses. If you are fasting or not eating enough carbohydrates, the brain develops a limited ability to use ketones (acids made when you use fat for energy).
However, your brain always runs most effectively on and always requires some glucose. Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to every cell in the body, are powered exclusively by glucose and have no ability to burn any other fuel.
When you have not eaten in several hours, the glucose from your last meal will be used up, yet you cannot live without this essential energy source. What's your body to do?
Here’s the solution.You make glucose from other substances. Your body’s ability to make glucose from fat is extremely limited. Instead, you mostly break down protein, first from skeletal muscle, to make glucose for survival. This process is called gluconeogenesis. Your body is cannibalizing its own muscle to make essential glucose. When you eat a food that contains sugars or complex carbohydrates, gluconeogenesis stops and your muscles can start rebuilding.
Given that glucose fuels both the brain and the red blood cells that carry oxygen, it’s no surprise thats people who eat breakfast have more energy and perform better all morning.
The easiest way to make breakfast convenient is to plan the night before. This involves two steps.
- First, get yourself and your family to bed at an hour when you can get sufficient sleep and wake up with time for all morning activities – including breakfast. Most adults need seven to eight hours sleep a night. Ask your child’s pediatrician how much sleep would be best for him or her. Getting to bed earlier than you may be used to is not an easy lifestyle change, but with commitment and support it can be done.
- Second, think about what you are going to have for breakfast the night before, and get everything ready to the extent you can so that it takes less effort in the morning.
What you eat for breakfast is important. Here are some healthy, plant-happy ideas.
- Whole grain cold cereal that is unsweetened or minimally sweetened. Add ground flax seed, fresh, frozen, or dried fruit, and the plant milk of your choice. (Although cereal is the most convenient and often appealing breakfast choice, some may avoid it because of fear of “carbs.” However, a multi-year study of girls between the ages of 9 and 19 found cereal-based breakfasts were associated with healthy body weight and better nutrient intake than other breakfasts.)
- Hot cereal, such as oatmeal or any other whole grain hot cereal
- A ready-made fruit-and-nut bar, or as a lower cost substitute,
- Smoothies made with fruit, plant milk, and even some added veggies are another fast and popular breakfast idea.
- Some home-made trail mix that can be eaten on-the-go. Make the trail mix with dried fruit, whole grain crackers, ready-to-eat cereal, or air-popped popcorn, and a few nuts
- Whole grain bread, toast, or muffin topped as desired with fruit preserves, hummus, or nut butter
- Leftovers from lunch or dinner from the day before. Everything from soup to half a wrap to vegan pizza to a baked potato can be a satisfying breakfast
- A smoothie made with lots of fruit and some plant milk
- Vegetables are fine with breakfast but don’t have just vegetables for breakfast. Vegetables are not likely to be calorie-dense enough to stop the process of gluconeogenesis. Hence if all you eat for breakfast is greens, your body will still be breaking down your muscles to make glucose
- On mornings you have more leisure, enjoy a special breakfast, such as tofu scramble or vegan whole grain pancakes or waffles
Make healthy, plant-based breakfast a habit, part of the daily routine for you and your family. The dividends will pay off for decades.