Professional Opinion

Professional Opinion: Is it ever OK to skip breakfast?

Debbie Petitpain is a registered dietitian with Sodexo working in the Medical University of South Carolina's Office of Health Promotion.
Debbie Petitpain is a registered dietitian with Sodexo working in the Medical University of South Carolina's Office of Health Promotion. Submitted photo

This week, Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian with Sodexo working in the Medical University of South Carolina's Office of Health Promotion, discusses why you should try to eat breakfast every day.

Question. When I admit to not eating breakfast regularly, I've been chided by friends, co-workers, parents, in-laws -- you name it -- for missing the "most important meal of the day." But sometimes I'm just not hungry until lunch time. Should I eat breakfast anyway? Can I get away with just eating something small such as a piece of fruit? Is it ever OK to skip breakfast entirely?

Answer. Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Yes -- if being healthy is important to you. But breakfast doesn't have to be eaten the first moment you open your eyes; it doesn't have to be a three-course meal and it doesn't even have to be breakfast foods. In fact, a lot of our traditional breakfast foods are too rich in carbs, sugar and fats.

Breakfast is really any nutrition you can get in your body within the first couple of hours of waking up. So if you start your day at 6 a.m., aim to get some calories, protein and fiber in your body by 8 a.m. A modest amount will do -- that piece of fruit and a full serving of low fat milk in your skinny latte, for example, is enough. The protein-fiber combo helps you stay full and satisfied and keeps cravings away later in the day.

Typical protein sources are egg, yogurt and cottage cheese but don't be afraid to try shrimp, salmon or even leftover chicken or meat from the dinner before. Add some fiber such as a piece of fruit, high fiber cereal or whole grain bread, or add in some vegetables like sauteed spinach, onions or mushrooms to your omelet or sliced tomato on your breakfast sandwich.

Some traditional breakfast foods are actually unhealthy and best avoided. White flour waffles or pancakes with syrup can pack 900 calories and more than 20 teaspoons of sugar in them, which can lead to a mid-morning sugar crash. And processed breakfast meats like bacon and sausage have been linked to colorectal cancer.

Coffee and tea are calorie-free drinks and even the caffeinated ones can be part of a healthy diet. Just be careful with the cream and sugar that often go in them. If you like juice in the morning, aim for a 100 percent fruit juice like orange juice and stick to a 4-ounce portion. Better yet, eat the fruit and benefit from the extra fiber.

The benefits of eating breakfast are many and have been documented for decades, particularly in reference to the school breakfast program, which started in 1966. Children who eat breakfast, compared with those who don't, are less likely to be overweight, have improved nutrition, eat more fruits, drink more milk and consume a wider variety of foods. Schools that offer breakfast free to all students in the classroom report decreases in disciplinary incidents, psychological problems, visits to school nurses and tardiness, increases in student attentiveness and attendance, and generally improved learning environments. No reason to think these benefits apply only to children.

Adults who eat breakfast have been found to have improved performance in mental tasks and concentration, improved feelings of fullness and satiety, less crankiness, decreased rates of carb cravings, better control of blood sugar levels, and may even lead to a longer-than-average life span. Dieters who eat breakfast are more likely to lose weight, lose inches around their waist and report a longer sense of fullness.

Most people cite time, or lack thereof, as the primary reason for skipping breakfast. Choose something simple that you can grab and go, such as a yogurt and apple or make your breakfast, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the night before. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier so you can wake up a little earlier. And if you aren't hungry when you wake up, try eating less at your last meal of the day.

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