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Updated: May 14, 2010 21:43 IST

Breakfast like a champ

SUSAN BOWERMAN
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Fuel for the day:An easy source of good carbs. Photo: Nagara Gopal
The Hindu
Fuel for the day:An easy source of good carbs. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Don't try to power through the morning on an empty stomach. The right meal will keep you alert through the day.

While most people wouldn't consider skipping lunch or dinner very often, a lot of us think nothing of trying to power through the morning on an empty stomach. People skip breakfast for a variety of reasons: not hungry, no time, don't like breakfast foods or trying to lose weight. If you're a breakfast-skipper and still not convinced that it's important, read on.

It's true that some people just aren't that hungry in the morning. Many people feel like their stomachs take a while to ‘wake up'. Even though your stomach may not send you strong signals in the morning, if you skip breakfast, your muscles and brain will certainly protest. Working muscles and an active mind require plenty of healthy carbohydrates to keep them functioning properly.

Our bodies require the right carbs — fruits, vegetables and whole grains — as our primary fuel source. Taking in these ‘good' carbs in the morning can help keep blood sugar levels from lagging and fuel the activity of your brain and muscles. And the right proteins in the morning give the meal staying power and help you stay alert and productive until lunch.

Right balance

A breakfast consisting of only refined carbohydrates and little protein is short on the ‘good carbs' that fruits, vegetables and whole grains provide and doesn't provide enough protein to keep you fuelled for very long. If you're not that hungry in the morning, try a dish of yogurt and some fruit, or a protein shake made with milk or soy milk, protein powder and fruit. Or have a glass of milk and a piece of fruit. The carbs in the milk and fruit will fuel your muscles and brain, and the protein will keep you satisfied until lunch.

With all the quick breakfast options out there, lack of time shouldn't stop you from eating in the morning. Try to avoid a drive-through detour or a grabbing something at your local coffee house; most of the time the food choices there are limited, and are likely to be high in fat and sugar as well as low in fibre. Instant whole grain hot cereals, protein-packed energy bars or smoothies that can be eaten at your desk are all good options if you're rushed. Make it a point to carry fruit with you or keep some at work to round out the meal.

If you don't like breakfast foods, then eat whatever appeals to you. There's no rule that says you can't eat last night's leftovers for breakfast. Try a turkey sandwich packed with vegetables on whole grain bread or some leftover chicken, brown rice and veggies; both will provide a good balance of protein and carbohydrate. Add a piece of fruit (or save for mid-morning) and have a glass of non-fat milk and you'll be good to go until noon.

If time is an issue — and even if it's not — a protein-rich meal replacement shake is also one of the best ways to start the day. The combination of protein powder, calcium-rich milk or soy milk plus fruit is a quick and nutritious way to start to the day.

And here's a message for those who grab a muffin and a coffee drink on the way to work: a nutrient-packed meal replacement drink made with milk and fruit has less than 250 calories, but a sweetened coffee drink and a muffin could cost you more than 1,000 calories. A detour to the drive-through for a breakfast sandwich could easily set you back 500 calories and dump more than two tablespoons of grease into your system.

Don't skip meals

Think skipping breakfast will help you lose weight? Think again.

People who skip meals tend to get very hungry and over-indulge at the next meal, so there's really no overall reduction in calories over the day.

You'll be much better off if you spread your calories out over a few small meals and one or two healthy snacks.

Have some protein each time you eat – egg whites, fish, poultry breast, non-fat dairy products and soy products are good choices – so you'll feel fuller longer.

And try to include foods that have a high water content – like whole fruits, veggies, salads and vegetable-based soups – they're nutrient-rich and can help fill you up, not out.

Susan Bowerman is the Assistant Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, a Registered Dietician and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

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