They're back - those frantic mornings you dash out the door to get kids to school and yourself to work on time. If you're among the 40 per cent of Canadians who regularly skips breakfast to avoid being late, you could be sabotaging your memory, your strength at the gym and your weight-control efforts.
No doubt you've heard the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it's an adage worth repeating. Eating a healthy breakfast - not a fast-food breakfast sandwich or high-fat pastry - is linked with a more nutritious diet, improved performance at school and in the boardroom, a leaner body and a healthier heart.
While breakfast is important for everyone, it is especially so for children and teenagers. Yet according to Breakfast for Learning, a non-profit organization that funds child nutrition programs in Canada, 31 per cent of elementary-school students don't eat a healthy breakfast daily. For high-school students, the figure is 62 per cent. By age 15, 26 per cent of girls and 21 per cent of boys say they never eat breakfast on school days.
Studies show that, compared with their breakfast-skipping peers, kids who eat the morning meal perform in school with better concentration, problem-solving skills and hand-eye co-ordination. Kids who start the school day on an empty stomach tend to be more sluggish, less attentive, and have less energy for morning activities.
Breakfast foods such as cereal, fruit, dairy products and soy beverages provide the body with glucose, a simple sugar that the brain and muscles rely on. Glucose is also used to make acetylcholine, a brain chemical important for memory.
What's more, kids who eat breakfast tend to have higher daily intakes of fruit, vegetables and milk products as well as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Eating breakfast - in particular cereal - has been also shown to help overweight kids slim down, while skipping the meal has been linked to further weight gain.
The weight-control benefits of breakfast also extend to adults. Studies have revealed that breakfast eaters have lower body weights than those who forgo the meal. Eating more calories at breakfast and fewer later in the day also seems to thwart weight gain in middle-aged adults.
Eating breakfast puts the brake on hunger throughout the day and prevents poor food choices at other meals. If you skip breakfast, studies suggest you'll consume more calories - and not necessarily healthy ones - later in the day.
Starting the day with a bowl of whole-grain breakfast cereal may also guard against heart failure (a condition in which the heart's ability to pump blood is weakened). A Harvard-based study found that men who ate whole-grain breakfast cereal every morning were 28 per cent less likely to develop heart failure over 24 years of follow-up. Eating whole-grain cereal two to six times a week lowered the risk by 22 per cent.
Whole grains have been shown to help reduce blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, diabetes and heart attacks.
With minimal preparation and healthy ingredients on hand, the following tips will help you make breakfast part of your morning routine when time is in short supply.
Adding protein-rich foods to breakfast, especially eggs, has been shown to help adults and teenagers reduce hunger and calories consumed over the course of the day. Protein slows digestion and blunts your hunger more than other foods.
Studies suggest protein-rich solid foods such as eggs, egg whites, part-skim cheese and lean Canadian bacon curb appetite better than protein-rich beverages. Yogurt and low-fat cottage cheese are other high-protein foods to add to breakfast.
Add whole grain
Including whole-grain foods at breakfast boosts your intake of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Read ingredient lists on ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, breads and toaster waffles. Choose products that list a whole grain (such as oats or whole wheat) first.
Although 100-per-cent bran cereals are not whole-grain cereals, you can consider them so because they are a concentrated source of bran that's missing from refined cereals.
Go for fibre
If you don't add fibre to breakfast, chances are slim you'll meet your target for the day. (Women aged 19-50 need 25 grams of fibre; men need 38 grams. After age 50, daily fibre requirements drop to 22 grams for women and 30 grams for men.) Choose a breakfast cereal that provides at least five grams of fibre per serving. Whole-grain bread should deliver at least two to three grams per slice.
If you can't face a bowl of bran cereal, mix half a serving of bran with half a serving of whole-grain cereal. Other fibre boosters include ground flaxseed, Salba, oat bran and raw wheat bran.
Limit refined sugar and sodium
Choose breakfast cereals with no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving. One exception: Cereals with dried fruit such as raisins and cranberries will have higher sugar numbers from natural sugar in the fruit.
Buy unflavored instant oatmeal and add your own fruit for sweetness.
It's not just fast-food breakfast sandwiches that harbour sodium. You need to read labels when choosing cereals and breads. Choose a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal with no more than 240 milligrams of sodium a serving. Ditto for instant hot cereal.
When buying bread, select brands that deliver no more than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.
If you can't face food in the morning, start gradually. Try fruit and yogurt, a breakfast smoothie, or a slice of toast with nut butter. Over time, you'll wake up hungry for breakfast.
Or, divide your breakfast. Eat part of your meal at home and take the rest to work or school to enjoy mid-morning.
Another culprit for lack of morning appetite: late-night snacking. By giving up after-dinner munchies, you'll be far more likely to wake up with an appetite for breakfast.
To save time on busy mornings, organize breakfast in advance. Cut up fruit after dinner so it's ready to throw on cereal or in a smoothie. On the weekend, make a batch of whole-grain muffins or hard boil eggs for quick weekday breakfasts.
Take it to go
If time still eludes you, have portable breakfast foods ready to toss in a knapsack or briefcase. Whole-grain cereal bars, breakfast-sized pitas, whole-grain crackers, yogurt, part-skim cheese strings, hard-boiled eggs, dried and fresh fruit all work well. You can even buy cereal, such as Kellogg's All-Bran Buds, in single-serving packages.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.