Living Well in Myanmar

Start your day off right

WHAT if I told you there is a daily ritual you’ve often completed but may not engage in regularly, one which can control your weight, help your kids do better in school, reduce your chance of heart attack and help you live longer?  Well, there is, and it’s called breakfast. Most people have heard that breakfast is good for you, but what are the specifics?

We’ve suspected for several decades now that regularly eating breakfast may have a variety of health benefits.  There is fairly good evidence from different types of studies that skipping meals (and that usually means breakfast) is linked to being overweight and having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Now, we have further information from a study published this year that eating breakfast regularly is associated with a decline in heart disease.  The researchers followed 27,000 Americans for 16 years, and found that those who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack over that time period.  The benefit remained even after statistically accounting for differences in diet, smoking and exercise.  Whether eating breakfast is the sole cause of the beneficial health outcomes found in these studies remains unproven.  Nevertheless the argument for having a morning meal is compelling. 

Paediatric research also extols the virtues of breakfast.  Associations have been established between breakfast consumption, learning capacity and school performance.  Passing up on breakfast seems to make it more difficult for kids to problem-solve, commit things to memory and maintain concentration.  Meanwhile obese children tend to eat breakfast with less regularity and consume a higher percentage of calories at dinner.

Scientists don’t know for sure why breakfast appears to be beneficial.  We know that people who eat every morning wind up consuming fewer calories than breakfast-skippers over the course of the full day.  It may also be that the body undergoes unnecessary stress from a metabolic standpoint if it doesn’t have reliable energy stores during the first few hours of the day.  Perhaps this stress manifests as high blood pressure which causes heart disease, and insulin sensitivity which causes diabetes.  Researchers who study circadian rhythm feel that food consumption in the morning helps reset the body’s internal clock, thereby contributing to a generally healthy state of being. 

So what is breakfast then? An article in the journal Nutrition Review defines breakfast as the first meal of the day, eaten before or at the start of daily activities, within two hours of waking and typically no later than 10am.  Somewhere between a quarter and a third of daily calories should be consumed with the meal.  Just what the optimal breakfast food is remains less well defined, but let common sense be your guide – avoid sugary cereal and fried dough while emphasising grains and fibre.

The challenge to overcome in eating a healthy breakfast is often not a lack of desire but the logistics.  Individuals and families need to make time for a morning meal, establishing a routine and making sure good food options are reliably available.  Your body, heart and mind will thank you.  © Christoph Gelsdorf 2013