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Mind Body and Soul: Mood, Metabolism and Math – The Benefits of a Good Breakfast

By Michelle Vessel

Don’t swim for thirty minutes after eating. Eat spicy foods and you’ll get ulcers. Feed a cold, starve a fever. Some of the sage bits of food-related wisdom that our mothers and grandmothers passed down haven’t stood the test of time. But if they constantly implored you to enjoy a hearty, well-balanced breakfast before dashing out the door each day, the women who raised you were absolutely right – and there are plenty of good benefits that can come from heeding their advice.


The Most Important Meal of the Day

For most of us, breakfast is the first meal of the day after a stretch of at least eight to ten hours with little or no food; we are literally “breaking our fast.” Starting off any machine with the right kind of fuel is important to keep it functioning properly, and recent research has linked an astounding array of health and wellness benefits to the regular consumption of breakfast.

When eaten within an hour of waking, a healthy meal brings your blood sugar back into check, fires up your metabolism, kick-starts your cognitive processes and regulates your mood. Both adults and kids who eat breakfast tend to perform better at certain types of tasks, such as memory recall, visual perception, spatial analysis, problem solving and basic math. Adults who fuel up on healthy foods in the morning tend to have a healthier body weight, better hunger regulation throughout the day and make healthier food choices. Kids who report eating a healthy breakfast tend to have higher standardized test scores, higher levels of motivation and academic performance, fewer health complaints during the day and are also at lower risk for obesity.

On the other side of the issue, if you make a habit of skipping or skimping on your morning meal, you could be setting yourself up for a plethora of health problems. The rate of breakfast skipping has increased among many groups in recent years with about thirty-one million Americans in all age groups passing on breakfast every day – and the consequences can be severe. Breakfast deprived adults tend to have higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, higher levels of insulin resistance and may be at greater risk of heart disease. Sadly, one in five kids also reports regularly skipping breakfast with female teens at a staggering number of 34%, putting young people more at risk for poor memory and concentration, behavioral problems, nausea and more.

The Morning Menu

So what’s the best type of food to include in your morning meal? That depends on your family’s preferences, lifestyle and dietary needs, but you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen whipping up Belgian waffles and eggs Benedict. Here are a few of the building blocks of a healthy breakfast, as well as brief rundown of the nutritional benefits that each one provides.


When it comes to a satisfying morning meal that will keep you feeling your best for hours on end, protein fits the bill. According to a slew of recent reports, a protein-rich breakfast is tops in terms of satiety (long-lasting fullness), mental alertness, brain activity and concentration, as well as stabilizing mood and blood sugar. And if you think that eating a high-protein breakfast entails preparing and shoveling down a bunch of processed meats like bacon or slapping a T-bone steak alongside your fried eggs, think again. Yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese and smoothies made with protein powder can all provide the same benefits without all of the greasy, fatty bulk.

Complex Carbohydrates

Many traditional breakfast staples such as sugary cereals, toaster pastries, white-bread toast and pancakes laden with syrup are primarily made of simple carbohydrates. These sweet treats may taste good and make you feel full temporarily, but you’ll likely be hungry, cranky and dragging within an hour or two as the sugar is quickly processed when it hits your bloodstream. Remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Complex carbs such as whole grains and fruits take longer for your body to digest, so they leave you feeling full for longer and tend to keep you on a more even keel throughout the day. Choices like hearty steel cut oats, whole grain breads or bagels, and high fiber fruits like apples won’t leave you reeling after a sugar crash.

Mix and Match

So what’s the perfect combination of proteins and complex carbs for your plate? It depends on your preferences and palate. USDA recommendations call for roughly a 2-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein, but feel free to tinker and experiment until you find a proportion that feels right for you.

The easiest way to make sure your breakfast is providing the nutrients you need to power your daily activities is to combine elements of complex carbs and protein in each morning meal. Try spreading nut butter on apple or banana slices, adding berries and nuts to a bowl of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt or stirring nuts or unsweetened coconut shreds into a bowl of steel cut oats. Voila! In minutes, you’ve got a balanced breakfast that hits all the right nutritional notes.

Thinking Out of the (Cereal) Box

When it comes to building the perfect breakfast that will fill you up and provide the most health benefits, sometimes it’s essential to break away from what’s considered “normal” breakfast food.

Soup and salad may form the cornerstone of many chain restaurant lunch specials, but both can make quick and easy breakfast meals as well. Salads are a perfect way to combine protein and complex carbohydrates, and for those who exercise in the morning, it’s less likely to upset your stomach during a big workout. Soup has been a breakfast fixture in other cultures for years, and it can be a real timesaver for your family. You can make a large batch once or twice a week and heat up individual portions in seconds during your hectic morning routine. Pair up some lean protein such as chicken with plenty of veggies and you’ll be hitting a nutritional home run.

Pizza may seem like an unusual choice for breakfast food, but if you get images of Pizza Hut and Domino’s out of your head, it can be a healthy, homemade alternative. Using premade whole grain crust from the grocery store, it cooks up in minutes and it’s easy to get just the right mix of proteins and healthy carbs for a good start to your busy day. Use traditional Italian inspired toppings or go for a more breakfast savvy mix of things like Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese.

If all else fails, there’s always leftovers. Don’t let the detritus of dinner linger inside the back of your fridge for weeks. Throw your notions about proper breakfast foods to the wind and nosh on veggie lasagna, turkey meatloaf or broccoli-quinoa casserole the morning after. You can even plan ahead and put a breakfast portion aside while you’re enjoying your previous night’s dinner.

There’s no doubt that making a healthy breakfast a non-negotiable part of your life will yield major benefits. With a few simple tweaks to your routine and a unique bit of brainstorming, it’s easy to ensure that you and your family can reap the big rewards of a well balanced breakfast.


1 Comment

  • I am trying to turn over a new leaf and eat breakfast on a regular basis, and so I like your point about how protein is an important part. Because of that, I’m definitely going to start eating more bacon and eggs. However, I’ll probably eat organic bacon so that I can make sure that it isn’t processed.

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