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Sharp Health News

Better health starts at breakfast

Sept. 29, 2022

Breakfast bowl of strawberries, blueberries and bananas

You’ve likely heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what’s the science behind that claim? There’s no shortage of options when it comes to breakfast, but what makes this meal so important?

According to Ursula Ridens, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, when it comes to the first meal of the day, there’s no shortage of benefits that breakfast provides.

Health benefits of breakfast
Whether it be the sustained energy we carry throughout the morning, vital nutrients that help to reduce risk of disease, or the ability to fight brain fog that creeps in midday, eating breakfast provides health perks for both the short term and long term.

Without a source of fuel in the morning, the body is more likely to experience food cravings or a surge of hunger later in the day. This can potentially lead to a person eating more than if they had eaten breakfast. Those who skip out on breakfast could experience a crash in energy, have a hard time focusing or feel jittery as blood sugar decreases.

“In that moment, we may reach for what is closest and most convenient because our body needs to satisfy a craving for food and receive a quick source of energy,” Ridens says. “When we feel really hungry, we often don’t take the time to prepare a well-balanced meal. We just need to eat.”

Avoid the breakfast rut
While we may be limited on time in the morning, there are steps we can take to avoid the breakfast rut and set ourselves up for success throughout the day. To avoid eating the same foods morning after morning, there are easy ways to mix it up and keep breakfast exciting.

Ridens suggests:

  • Think in terms of food groups. Do you have a whole grain, a protein, and some type of fruit or vegetable? Incorporating these food groups helps provide us with energy and a diversity of nutrients to support mental and physical health.
  • Use staples that you can easily swap. Take a piece of whole-grain toast, for example. Add peanut butter, hummus or cream cheese and layer with other toppings, such as fruit, cinnamon, tomatoes or even red onions, sesame seeds and capers. Include a source of protein, such as egg, nuts, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt to round out your meal and provide satiety, or fullness. Varying flavors and textures is a great way to stay interested in eating breakfast.

Find what works for you
According to Ridens, there’s no such thing as perfect eating. While we aim to do our best when it comes to nutrition, it’s important to keep in mind that changing eating patterns takes time and practice. “Whether you are working on carving out a few extra minutes in the morning to eat breakfast or incorporating a new food, give yourself permission to experiment and see how it feels,” she says.

Exploring one’s relationship with food looks different from person to person, Ridens says. If you’re someone who doesn’t typically eat breakfast, she suggests starting small and identifying foods that feel safe and comfortable. “Even if it’s not a full-balanced meal, eating something small is better than eating nothing at all.”

It’s also important to recognize that shopping for nutritious, tasty ingredients doesn’t need to be complicated or break the bank. She advises you to focus on variety.

“The greater variety of foods you eat, the wider range of nutrients you’ll receive, which often leads to more health benefit,” Ridens says. “Whether you do your grocery shopping at the dollar store or local farmers market, it’s all about what makes the most sense for you financially and what you enjoy.”

Mindfulness at mealtime
Whether it’s breakfast or any other meal, Ridens encourages you to be open to nourishing your body as an act of kindness and self-care. Ideally, she says, you would make time to sit down and be fully present to enjoy breakfast.

“Carving out that time to eat helps us to acknowledge that it’s an important part of our day and well-being,” Says Ridens. “Whether it’s 5 minutes or 20 minutes, it’s a time to sit, relax and give back to ourselves.”

For parents, taking time to prioritize meals is a great opportunity to model the importance of self-care to children and teens.

“I recognize that each person is in a different place and has different experiences with food,” Ridens says. “One of the things I love about being a dietitian is being able to meet people where they are in their journey and discover how I can help them achieve their goals in a way that feels best to them.”

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