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The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Eating Breakfast

Friday, 27 April 2018 12:26  by Courtney B.

You hear the alarm clock blaring and decide to hit snooze. Just five more minutes, you sleepily promise yourself. Before you know it, five minutes turn into 10, then 20. Suddenly, you only have time to throw on clothes, brush your teeth and rush out the door. Breakfast? Who has time for that?

We've all been there before. Often, other life factors take precedence over a healthy breakfast. We sleep too long, or we wait until the last minute to get moving. Some women skip breakfast just because they do not have an appetite in the morning. Other times, we eat breakfast, but we do not make healthy choices. We feel the crash of doughnuts or leftover potato chips hit us by early afternoon.

Although sleep is important, as is getting to work on time, breakfast needs to make the list of your daily must-dos. Breakfast should not be something you only enjoy on your days off. You deserve to treat yourself to a nourishing breakfast every day of the week.

There are many excellent benefits to incorporating a balanced breakfast into your diet. Luckily, a healthy breakfast does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. We have a number of quick and healthy breakfast food ideas, so you can whip up something nutritious and start your day right in no time.

Why Is Breakfast So Important?

When our mothers made sure we ate breakfast before school every day, they had a good reason — breakfast can affect your mood and physical health all day long. How could you concentrate on learning your ABCs if your belly was grumbling? A healthy breakfast starts you off on the right foot and gives you the energy you need to tackle everyday challenges.

Breakfast can help with weight management

Also, a complete breakfast helps with weight management and builds a foundation for healthy lifestyle choices. After eating a healthy breakfast, you will be able to kick junk food cravings to the curb more easily, and you will have the physical energy to keep moving until lunch without snacking on sugary foods or caffeine.

A nutritious breakfast makes a positive impact on your mental health, as well. With a good breakfast in your tummy, you will have an easier time focusing, solving problems and handling stress because you will not have to cope with hunger pangs. Plus, if you eat the right foods, you might experience a mood boost for a happier, more productive morning.

If you regularly skip breakfast, have no fear. It is never too late to start incorporating a healthy, balanced breakfast into your morning routine. Let's look now at the physical and mental benefits in more detail and get you cooking.

The Physical Benefits of Eating a Healthy Breakfast

According to a 2011 study by marketing research group NPD, 31 million Americans skip breakfast every day, usually because they run out of time or do not feel like eating when they wake up. If you fall into this category, consider adding breakfast to your morning grind for the following reasons. You will do your body good!

1. Manage Weight

Numerous studies prove eating breakfast is key to maintaining a healthy weight as part of a balanced diet. For example, 78 percent of those who belong to the National Weight Control Registry eat breakfast every day. Ninety percent eat breakfast at least five days a week. Whether you are trying to lose weight or manage your weight, it is worth fitting breakfast into your schedule.

Fit breakfast into your schedule

Breakfast in itself will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. However, by eating a healthy breakfast every day, you are more likely to make better food choices and have more energy for exercising. Also, with a satisfying breakfast, you are less likely to reach for high-calorie snacks or overindulge at lunch to ease your hunger.

In general, breakfast helps with weight management for these key reasons.

  • • You will consume less fat throughout the day: A good breakfast helps calm hunger hormones like ghrelin. Without breakfast, you might experience a big boost in appetite-stimulating hormones and eat more lunch.
  • You will be less hungry throughout the day: A complete breakfast includes high-fiber foods, which keeps you fuller longer.
  • Jump-starts your metabolism: After a night of sleep, it is good to wake up your metabolism and get it out of energy-conserving mode.
  • You will be more likely to lose more weight: A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found late lunch eaters lost less weight and more slowly than early eaters during a 20-week treatment program. Breakfast eaters are also more likely to exercise regularly.

2. Meet Daily Nutritional Needs

Studies have found individuals who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their daily nutritional needs. For example, the British Journal of Nutrition published results from a study which found non-breakfast eaters ate fewer nutrients throughout the day than those who ate breakfast.

Balanced breakfast

A balanced breakfast includes important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, calcium and protein. All of these nutrients are vital to overall health, as they support immunity and help prevent disease. Look at breakfast as the perfect opportunity to get the nutrition you need to function at your best.

3. Boost Energy

After we wake up from a night of sleeping, our glucose levels are usually low. We need glucose to fuel our minds and our bodies. When we eat breakfast, we replenish our glucose levels and give our bodies the energy it needs to perform.

A study called the Bath Breakfast Project at the University of Bath found breakfast skippers experienced greater spikes and dips in glucose levels, while breakfast eaters experienced more stable blood sugar levels all day. Without stable glucose levels, you will feel tired and more tempted to snack on sugary, unhealthy foods to pick yourself up.

4. Make Healthier Choices

Eating breakfast sets you up for making healthier choices all day long. Without breakfast, you may feel starving by lunchtime and more likely to give in when you see that cake in the break room. However, if you eat a breakfast high in fiber and lean protein, you will feel fuller longer and more in control of what you choose to put on your plate later on.

Breakfast eaters have been found to make healthier lifestyle choices in general. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found breakfast skippers were more likely to smoke, had a slightly higher body mass index, ate less fiber and drank more coffee.

Breakfast helps you feel more motivated to stick to health plans, too. You'll feel stronger, more energized and ready to meet daily goals when you start the day with health.

Unstable glucose levels can lead to unhealthy snacking

5. Lower Disease Risk

Eating breakfast can lower your risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes — not only because a healthy breakfast includes cholesterol-lowering foods like oatmeal, but for other reasons, like meal timing.

Breakfast reduces risk of cardiovascular disease

The American Heart Association found eating more calories earlier in the day may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and they also suggest by eating breakfast, you are more likely to eat more mindfully and overcome emotional eating. 

6. Feel Stronger

By starting your day with nutrition, you will feel stronger, more energized and ready to conquer the world. If you are running around on empty, you may start to feel weak and tired more quickly than you'd like.

Food like lean protein is the best fuel for active living. Plus, eating high-protein foods like eggs for breakfast will help you gain muscle mass and curb your appetite.

How Does Breakfast Affect Your Brain?

Breakfast is not just beneficial for your body, but it also does wonders for your mind. Remember the old days in school when you ran to catch the bus and had to skip breakfast? Or mornings you crammed for an exam without a bite to eat first? It is a lot harder to focus in the classroom or workplace without food to fuel the brain.

Here are some of the many ways a delicious and nutritious breakfast improves your overall mental health.

1. Lowers Stress

When you skip meals but continue with your day, you may experience headaches or fatigue from low blood sugar levels. It is difficult to work, take the kids to school or complete regular tasks when you are not feeling in tip-top shape. By eating breakfast, you help your body function properly and improve your mental well-being as a result. You will feel more in control and less stressed as you rush to work, finish chores or study for an exam.

Also, if you start the day right, you are less likely to engage in other stress-causing activities, like overeating and getting off track with a diet. Breakfast and mental health go hand in hand to help you avoid getting caught in a stress cycle.

2. Stabilizes Mood

How does eating breakfast affect your mood? Stable blood sugar means less risk of mood swings, as you will feel less tired and cranky with a good breakfast than if you skipped breakfast or ate an unhealthy, sugary breakfast. By feeding your brain the right foods, like vegetables and fruit, you will stabilize your blood sugar.

Eat low-glycemic carbs, like whole grains, and fruits, like pears or apples, and you will experience more balanced moods. This is because feel-good brain chemicals that control mood, like serotonin, run on sugar.

However, that does not mean you should eat doughnuts for breakfast every day. Sugary foods like cookies, doughnuts and pies flood the system with insulin, followed by a crash. Insulin is the hormone your pancreas creates that lets your body use glucose, or sugar, from the food.

Instead of boosting your mood with sweets, get your sugar from low-glycemic carbs for a slower, more stable release of happy chemicals.

3. Boosts Concentration

If you eat breakfast, you will not be distracted by hunger when you are at work or in school. Plus, your brain will have the fuel it needs to function properly.

A study from the Indian Council of Medical Research that assessed 379 urban middle-class adolescents found breakfast eaters scored substantially higher on attention-concentration and memory tests, and had higher school achievement. Also, protein-rich foods, like yogurt and eggs, increase tyrosine, dopamine and norepinephrine — all of which help with alertness.

Protein rich foods improve learning and memory

4. Promotes Brain Growth

Food is medicine. It affects how you feel, grow and function. Every meal of the day can make a difference in your physical and mental health. Breakfast is an opportunity to make sure you get the proper nutrition to promote brain growth and brain power.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain plasticity, which improves learning and memory. Those who eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia.

Promotes brain growth

You can grow new neurons in your brain at any age. Neurons, or brain cells, grow in the hippocampus to help the brain store memories, learn new information and control emotions. One way to generate neurons is through an aerobic exercise like walking, running or swimming. To exercise, you need energy. To get energy, you need breakfast.

5. Enhances Memory

Glucose gives your body the fuel it needs to recall information. After a night of sleeping, your body needs to restore glucose levels to function at its best, and one way to do that is with a nutritious breakfast.

In a study of 4,000 elementary school children, researchers found children who ate breakfast outscored those who did not on memory and verbal fluency tests. Our brains need fuel to function, and breakfast is the way to go. For example, your body absorbs oatmeal more slowly than other types of foods, which gives a lower rise in blood sugar lasting throughout the morning. Top a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries for a mega-memory boost.

Blueberries and oatmeal for a memory boost

6. Improves Medication Effects

Combining antidepressant medication with a meal may help boost the positive effects of the medication. For example, a University of Melbourne study found including supplements like omega-3s and vitamin D in your diet improves the effects of antidepressants. Likewise, folic acid, found in leafy greens and whole-wheat bread, has been shown to improve response to antidepressants. You might want to consider this information when choosing what you eat for breakfast. For example, you can toss a tablespoon of flaxseeds on top of your oatmeal, or add them to a smoothie, for a dose of omega-3s.

Also, if your medication causes nausea, constipation or other side effects, taking medicine with a healthy high-fiber breakfast may help.

The Best Healthy Foods You Can Eat for Breakfast

As it is true breakfast is an important way to start the day, what you eat also makes a difference. The key to enjoying the benefits of breakfast is to choose healthy, nutritious foods.

Like any meal that is part of a healthy diet, you want to practice portion control with breakfast. If you load up on too many calories, you may feel sleepy or sluggish instead of energized. In general, the average person who is not on a strict diet should consume 350 to 500 calories for breakfast, but you may need less or more depending on your needs and goals. Either way, make each calorie count by choosing nutrient-dense foods.

300-500 calorie breakfast

To start the day right and make sure you get the complex carbs, fiber, protein and fat you need, try to include food from each of the following groups.

  • Whole grains: Whole-grain toast or oatmeal
  • Lean protein: Eggs, nuts or lean meat
  • Low-fat dairy: Yogurt or low-fat milk or cheese
  • Fruit and vegetables: Juice without added sugar, or fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables

Do not be afraid to get creative with breakfast to make sure you get the nutrients you need. There are no rules that say you can't eat eggs on top of your oatmeal, for example, or that vegetable pizza for breakfast is not allowed. If you keep healthy eating in mind, you will make the right choices and feel healthier, happier and stronger all day long.

If you do not have much time in the morning, that's no problem, either. Try to set aside at least 15 minutes every morning for breakfast, even if that means you have to get to bed a little earlier the night before. If you need to prepare your breakfast the day before, that's worth the time, too.

Get to bed earlier so you can eat breakfast

With all that said, breakfast can be a quick, easy and satisfying meal. Here are some of our breakfast ideas for on-the-go women.

  • Veggie omelet with fruit and whole-grain toast: This breakfast idea is the ultimate way to start your day because you will find all the nutrients you need. Toss leafy greens like kale or spinach in your omelet for a dose of folate, which is excellent for mental health. The fiber in the whole-grain toast will help keep you full. Choose a side of refreshing fruits like low-calorie watermelon, which will not only hydrate you, but also contains high levels of cancer-preventing lycopene.

  • Oatmeal with blueberries and flaxseed: Oatmeal lowers bad cholesterol levels and provides a decent dose of fiber, while blueberries pack a strong antioxidant punch. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed for mood-enhancing omega-3s. Steel-cut oats are the least processed, but may take some time to prepare. If you are in a rush, it is OK to go with a more convenient option like instant oatmeal. However, choose instant oatmeal that contains at least three grams of fiber and fewer than six grams of sugar. You can add healthier sweeteners, like honey, fruit or spices like cinnamon.

  • Hard-boiled egg and a banana: If you are regularly short on time, this can be a great go-to option. You can boil eggs in advance and keep them in an easy-to-grab container in the fridge. With a hard-boiled egg, all you need to do is crack, peel and rinse for a treasure trove of vitamins, protein and omega-3s. Plus, protein-rich eggs satisfy hunger like nothing else, and may help with weight loss as part of a healthy diet. A banana makes the perfect companion, as it provides a healthy dose of fiber, potassium and carbohydrates. Also, you can eat a banana anywhere, which makes them an ideal grab-and-go choice.

  • Hard-boiled egg and a banana: If you are regularly short on time, this can be a great go-to option. You can boil eggs in advance and keep them in an easy-to-grab container in the fridge. With a hard-boiled egg, all you need to do is crack, peel and rinse for a treasure trove of vitamins, protein and omega-3s. Plus, protein-rich eggs satisfy hunger like nothing else, and may help with weight loss as part of a healthy diet. A banana makes the perfect companion, as it provides a healthy dose of fiber, potassium and carbohydrates. Also, you can eat a banana anywhere, which makes them an ideal grab-and-go choice.

  • Almond butter on whole-grain toast with sliced banana: This comforting breakfast is fast and filling. Spread almond butter on toast for healthy monounsaturated fat, antioxidant vitamin E, calcium, iron and protein. With yummy banana on whole-grain toast, you will have enough nutrition, fiber and carbohydrates to keep you satisfied, and you can have this breakfast ready in minutes.

  • Avocado toast with cherry tomatoes: Looking for a more savory breakfast? Mash one avocado with a quarter-teaspoon of lime juice and a pinch of salt and have yourself a scrumptious spread. Mood-boosting and energizing, avocados contain tons of nutrients, from essential vitamins to healthy fats, fiber and more potassium than a banana. Enjoy mashed avocado on whole-grain toast and top with sliced cherry tomatoes for extra vitamin C and flavorful zing.

  • Yogurt and protein bar: If you are really in a rush, grab a yogurt or glass of low-fat milk to get some dairy in your diet and help fill up with a convenient protein bar. Although it is good to vary your diet, and you probably do not want to eat protein bars for breakfast every day, you do not have to skip the protein bar section at the supermarket completely. You can enjoy this easy breakfast on occasion — just make sure to choose protein bars that have fewer than 20 grams of sugar, six to 10 grams of protein and three or more grams of fiber.

  • Healthy breakfast smoothie: Sometimes a refreshing, hydrating smoothie can really boost energy levels to wake you up and get you moving. If you love frosty, fruity smoothies, why not incorporate a healthy breakfast smoothie into your diet? With smoothies, you can get creative and have fun while nourishing your body. Just make sure you include protein — like protein powder, yogurt or nut butter — in your smoothies, and do not add too much sugar. For example, you might try this yummy almond butter protein shake, which blends one banana, three-quarters of a cup of unsweetened almond milk, one tablespoon of almond butter and one tablespoon of chia seeds for fiber, protein, vitamins and deliciousness.

The trick is to keep it simple and know breakfast can be delicious and highly nutritious without making you late or adding stress. There are tons of breakfast ideas, recipes and tips available online to inspire early-morning bliss. Do you only have time to grab an apple on the way out the door? Give any healthy food a try for breakfast, rather than skip it altogether, and see how you feel. You might soon find breakfast is a meal you look forward to.

Breakfast Is Worth the Time

If you regularly skip breakfast because you are not a morning person or you do not have time, we understand. Some days it feels like there is not enough time in the universe to even tie your shoes. Although it is not the end of the world if you miss breakfast once in a while, you may want to rethink making a habit out of it.

You are worth the time and effort it takes to enjoy a healthy diet. Healthy eating will improve your mood and make you feel better all around. Breakfast is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, and its many benefits are ones you do not want to miss out on. From increased physical and mental energy to the opportunity to start your day with the nutrition you need, breakfast is worth the time every single day. So even if you have to peel a banana while you walk to your car, we say go for it. Just try to add a handful of almonds to your breakfast banana tomorrow.

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