The Importance of Breakfast

Authors: Susan R. Johnson MD, F.A.A.P. & Patricia McPhee R.N., B.S.N.

Updated: Feb-Apr. 8th, 2000

Updated: March 9th, 2009

I have always heard from my own parents that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Yet as a teenager, I often skipped breakfast or had the infamous "chocolate instant breakfast" or "Pop-tarts". I thought I was doing just fine. I really didn't learn the importance of eating breakfast until my 12 week surgery rotation in medical school. It was 7 AM and I was assisting in surgery and literally passed out while holding a retractor. After I had partially recovered in the corner of the operating room, the chief resident in surgery came over to me and whispered an invaluable piece of "survival" advice -- eat a good, nutritious breakfast every morning! Needless to say, I have been eating a good, nutritious breakfast ever since that day.

I still struggle trying to get my son out of bed early enough so that he can eat a good breakfast before he goes to school. I know that getting my 6 year old to bed early (7:00 to 7:30 pm) allows him to wake up more easily and gives us time to have a sit-down breakfast. I also learned, from my training in Switzlerland, that if your child has any tendency towards overactivity or irritablity then it is critical for the child not to consume sugar in the morning. Most cold cereals these days are made with lots of sugar (or honey). One has to read the labels carefully to find a cereal without a lot of sugar, colored dyes, or preservatives. A breakfast with some protein, especially a grain like oatmeal (or a 7 grain cooked cereal) is great but even something like soup, waffles (again watch the sugar content) with unsweetened applesauce, cottage cheese, or left-overs from dinner can be good too. Hard boiled eggs are actually a lot harder to digest than scrambled eggs.

Eating a good nutritious breakfast is also essential for adults. There are studies, with adults, that show that if they consume all of their daily intake of calories in the morning, they lose weight. If they consume the same amount of calories in the evening, they gain weight. Our metabolism is designed for a hearty breakfast, a hearty lunch and a light supper ("breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper"). The enzymes and other substances in our body that help digest our food are at their peak activity in the morning and early afternoon. Our liver, which processes our food and thus has a relationship to our energy level, likes to start going to sleep in the late afternoon and early evening. By afternoon, the liver wants to start storing up energy for the next day (anabolic activity) rather than metabolizing food (catabolic activity). A light supper consisting of easily digested carbohydrates and/or soups is much better tolerated than a dinner high in proteins or fats (which often leads to indigestion at night and difficulty sleeping).

Caffeine in coffee and chocolate is also hard on the body because it directly stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. The insulin causes an uptake of sugar from your bloodstream and leads to feelings of hunger, irritability, and a craving for sugar. This is why one often feels hungry 20 minutes to 1 hour after drinking a diet cola or a cup of coffee, especially on an empty stomach. With regard to weight loss, drinking diet drinks is one of the most counterproductive ways to lose weight because they actually make you crave sweets and promote a low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. In addition, there are lots of concerns about the sugar substitutes in all diet drinks, they mimic brain neurotransmitters and have been linked to adverse behaviors and neurological symptoms, like headaches, in both children and adults.

The following are some facts about grains from a lecture by Gerhard Schmidt MD. Wheat has the highest content of protein compared to all other grains. It typically is easy to digest but has a protein called gluten that is sometimes more difficult for children to manage. Rice has the lowest protein content, lowest content of fat and the highest content of carbohydrate (77%). This is why rice is a good food when one is sick or recovering from an illness because it is so easy to digest and it is healthier to consume foods low in protein and fat when febrile. Rice is a good grain for all stomach diseases. Ryes have a high value of protein. Rye crisp bread is one of the easiest breads to digest. It also has more fiber substance than wheat. Oats are great and as a grain they have the richest content of vegetable-based fat. This is why a bowl of oatmeal fills you up for the entire morning. Oat grains mixed with unsweatened applesauce also are gentle on the stomach and digestion. If you are feeling depressed, then a bowl of oatmeal each morning is supposed to help you feel better. Barley is rich in silica and rich in iron. Millet is rich in sulphur. Millet also contains silica and flouride. It is considered the grain of beauty because it purifies the skin. A treatment for teenagers with acne is porridge cooked with millet every morning for 3 months.

Finally, two quotes from Dr. Schmidt: "In refined white flour, we have an example of un-nourishing nourishment" and "Our not finding our way - our being lost- is also a problem of daily nutrition".

So set your alarms and raise your spoons for the feast of breakfast!