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What’s for Breakfast?

David Spero

December 3, 2008

When I give classes in the community on preventing diabetes and its complications, people always want to know about food. They tend to ask “What should I eat?” about three times as often as all other questions combined. Since they know very little, and I’m not a dietitian, I have to keep it simple. I boil it down to two rules, and the first one is Eat Breakfast!

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating a good breakfast protects against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Why is breakfast so important? Mainly because if you don’t eat breakfast, you will be hungry all day. Your blood sugar will tend to be low, so you’ll be grabbing sugary or fatty foods for a short-term energy fix. A good breakfast protects you against those downs and ups.

Daytime is when we work hardest, so that’s when we need calories. Heavy dinners make no sense, unless you’re a night worker. Big dinners turn to big fat while you sleep. Researcher Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, says, “People who have breakfast in the morning…wind up eating fewer calories, less saturated fat and cholesterol and have better overall nutritional status than people who skip that meal.”

Our culture seems to work against eating breakfast. People say they don’t have enough time. Seems like we’re too busy working and consuming to spend time living. Surveys show that far fewer than half of Americans eat breakfast every day. Among lower-income people, this number drops to as low as 25%.

What Kind of Breakfast?
Dr. Van Horn says that whole grains are the most important thing. There is also a strong case for including protein and maybe some fat, especially in people with impaired insulin production. Those foods break down more slowly and tend to keep your blood sugar steadier. A mass of simple carbs (like sugary cereals or white-flour pancakes with syrup) won’t get through you the day. Instead, they will start you bingeing.

Whole grains, to review, are those that contain a lot of fiber, like oatmeal or brown rice. DiabetesSelfManagement.com has a page of breakfast recipes here. I’m definitely going to try some of these recipes. They look great!

I’m lucky to have time to cook, since I work at home. Most people seem to be in too much of a rush to get to work or school. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people “Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand…like fresh fruit, cottage cheese, eggs, whole grain breads and cereals…spend perhaps 5 minutes preparing for breakfast the night before. Even setting out a bowl, a spoon and a glass can ease the morning crunch. If all else fails, yes, get up a few minutes earlier!”

Leftovers make great breakfasts, and they’re easy. Writing on Diabetes Health, Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE, says, “Eat leftovers or heat up some soup, some beans, chicken salad, pasta, green salad with turkey or cheese, a meat or peanut butter and sugar-free jam sandwich.”

Are Eggs OK?
The ADA may have to change its breakfast advice when it comes to eggs. A recent Boston study of over 50,000 health-care professionals found that men who averaged an egg a day or more were “58% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who did not eat eggs, and women were 77% more likely to become diabetic if they ate at least an egg a day.” The study was conducted by Luc Djoussé, MD, DSc, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, and was reported online in Diabetes Care.

It’s hard to make sense of this. The researchers think that cholesterol is the villain, but say that more testing is needed. I’m one of those people who has long tended to favor lower-carb diets to prevent diabetes. But the data was very convincing. One egg a week is about all that’s safe, according to the study. They did not check about egg whites vs. yolks.

This finding may make breakfast considerably more complicated. Of course, there are other sources of protein, but this adds one more dietary change. Tofu, beans, nuts, cheese, fish, or meat can all fit into a good breakfast. At least until the next study.



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