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Dr. Tim Says....

How to Eat Healthy

I get requests all the time about advice on how to start eating healthy. Folks simply want some direction and there's a lot of confusing info out there. We're going to begin a series to help you with this. Every Monday we'll present a new segment to help you get started and move forward to your goals.

The first few months will be about one of the most important issues: assessment and planning. During that time the key is to sort out where you are: learn about yourself, where you are and where you need to be. Topics will range from healthy breakfast planning to food diary to information about carbs, fats and protein.

This week we start with a discussion about breakfast...

The Importance of Eating Breakfast

It looks like your mother was right (she knew it all along). Breakfast may just be the most important meal of the day.

There are a number of reasons why you should make a healthy breakfast part of your life. When you consider that you had dinner at 6:00 or 7:00 the night before and you might get up for breakfast at 6:00 A.M. you have already gone about 12 hours without eating. By not having breakfast and waiting until your "coffee break" or lunch adds even more time. By the time you get around to eating it could be that your body has been starving for as long as 18 hours.

It's well established that such long periods of starvation will lower your metabolism. The body essentially slows itself to hold onto stored calories and this can have an effect how easy it is for you to lose weight. At the same time, the research shows those who are overweight consume a larger portion of their daily calories before noon instead later in the day have an easier time losing weight.

The type of breakfast makes a difference in how easy it is to lose weight. In one research study participants who ate cereals, quickbreads (like banana bread or zucchini bread) or muffins had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) when compared to those having meat and eggs. (The meat and egg eaters tended to eat more calories, which makes sense.) Having whole grain and cooked cereals fared better for folks than ready to eat cereals or muffins. (JACN 2003, 22: 296-302)

Studies have also shown that those who skip breakfast have a higher BMI. Likewise, there's good research showing that breakfast eaters with a lower Body Mass Index are more likely to eat their meals more regularly throughout the day. (AJCN l992;55:645-5l) Similarly those eating early in the day are less likely to snack during the day. When those who do have breakfast have snacks they tend to snack more sensibly.

Eating breakfast regularly even helps with improving cholesterol profiles. In one study women who didn't eat breakfast have higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Those women also had developed problems in how their insulin responds to eating. Such changes in insulin response are now clearly linked to heart disease and diabetes. (AJCN 2005;81:388-96)

Researchers looking at data from the large long-term Physician's Health Study found that those eating breakfast cereal had lower rates of heart failure. Those who had two servings of high-fiber cereal per week had a reduced risk of heart failure of almost 20%. (Arch Int Med 2007;167:2080-2085)

Studies go on and on to reinforce the importance of breakfast as being the most important meal of the day. Start with a high fiber cereal, whole grain toast, muffins or quickbreads and you'll be satisfied and less likely to eat more during the day.

So your mom was right (and probably about more than just breakfast). Eat breakfast and get your day started right!

Here are some guidelines to help you to eat a healthy breakfast.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet
June 1, 2009
Last updated: 06/01/09