Skipping that morning bowl of cereal may be a great way to cut calories, right? Probably not, according to research which suggests that a nutritious breakfast can play an important role in helping you manage your weight, increase your productivity, and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Here's why:
1. You probably get more nutrients than with lunch or dinner. Morning foods tend to provide a wallop of essential nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals—and often in a different variety than those found in lunch and dinner favorites. For example, it's fairly simple to get a hefty dose of fiber from whole-grain breakfast cereals and slow-cooked oatmeal. Fiber helps lower your cholesterol and protect your heart, according to Mayo Clinic, and also aids digestion, helping the body absorb nutrients. A glass of calcium-fortified orange juice provides bone-building calcium and vitamin C. Smart breakfast choices include a high-fiber cereal, breads or oatmeal—look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. And don't forget to include a serving of protein with a little fat such as a hard-boiled egg, yogurt or nut butter since protein helps build muscles and bones, and fat will keep you feeling fuller longer. What to skip in the morning? Pop Tarts, sugary cereals and other breakfast choices packed with added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women get no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars, and men should not top 150 calories per day to keep heart disease and diabetes at bay.
2. You feel fuller longer. Have you ever skipped breakfast and found yourself dying for a doughnut by 11 a.m.? "Missing this crucial meal raises your risk of obesity," warns David Zinczenko author of the best-selling book Eat This, Not That!. Perhaps we crave higher-calorie foods when mid-morning hunger strikes, or maybe we choose them because they're readily available in the office and at nearby fast food restaurants. Regardless, eating a filling breakfast can satisfy your appetite for several hours, making it easier to pass on high-calorie snacks later on. Zinczenko's favorite breakfast choice? An egg sandwich on whole-grain toast, since it's a source of both fiber and lean protein, which, like fat, will keep you feeling fuller longer.
3. You get an energy boost. Having something to eat in the morning can boost your metabolism and provide energy for exercise later in the day—which can help you manage your weight, says Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky. If you haven't eaten for 12 hours, you may not have enough carbohydrates left in your body's stored supplies to have your usual get-up-an-go zip. This is especially true if you do a morning workout, which will burn off any remaining energy reserves. Without a post-workout meal to replace those carbs, you're likely to become sluggish, and your metabolism may drop so you burn fewer calories than you normally would.
4. You feel more productive. Certain breakfast foods can increase your productivity and give you more energy, says Zeratsky. Sure that morning jolt of caffeine can give you a boost, but so can foods rich in vitamin B, such as oatmeal, bananas, pineapple, and avocados. Having a good source of vitamin B in the morning can also improve your concentration and help you think more clearly.
5. You might burn more calories throughout the day. If you spread your calories over three meals a day or eat the same amount for just lunch and dinner, does it make a difference in terms of your waistline? The jury's still out on that, but some researchers have shown that those who eat several small meals a day tend to have a higher rate of calorie-burning throughout the day than those who eat just one or two big meals. That could be because the body, which burns calories to digest food coming in, keeps its engines revved in anticipation of the next onslaught of nutrients.
Chelsea Bush writes for AskFitnessCoach, a blog that promotes fitness and weight loss for "real" people.