By Nathan Chambers, Former Arizona State University Nutrition Student
Personally, I do not understand how people can skip breakfast; I’m starving if I don’t eat by 8! But I know that a huge portion of the population does skip the first meal of the day. For some, a cup of coffee is all they have for breakfast, and as a nation, we wonder why we feel fatigued!
First, let’s take a look at energy. There is only one way the human body gets energy, and that is from food. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the only sources of energy. Coffee does not provide energy. The effect of caffeine is to make you feel more energetic because it speeds up your metabolic rate. (I’m not knocking coffee– I love coffee– but I also love breakfast!)
The measure of energy is calories.
- 1 gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories of energy
- 1 gram of protein provides 4 calories of energy
- 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories of energy
If you skip breakfast, you may end up feeling sluggish throughout the day. Also, you may wind up overeating, later on, to make up for those lost calories.
So what does skipping breakfast do to our children?
I don’t know what type of job you have, buy maybe you can get away with going into a semi-catatonic state, not unlike the zombies of the Walking Dead. Maybe you can get away with it because your boss is in that same state!
But first thing in the morning, our children start school, and glucose (sugar) is the fuel of the brain. In children, 50% of the energy needs of the day are coming from the brain1. As well, children have a lower liver mass than adults, and it is in the liver that glucose is stored (in the form of glycogen); at night, while our children are sleeping, they are using their stored energy to heal and grow their bodies1. With all of their reserved energy used up at night, and their brain requiring SO much energy to function at school, it is no wonder that research has shown a positive correlation between children eating breakfast and attentiveness in school1.
Overall, children who eat breakfast score better on attentiveness, and memory tests, especially later in the morning but still before lunch1.
We all know that calcium is important for the growth and maintenance of strong bones. We also know that this is especially important for children, whose skeletons grow immensely from the time they are born to the time they are full-fledged adults. Calcium intake also affects risk for hypertension, some colon cancers, and of course, osteoporosis.
Milk and dairy products are the most often found source of calcium in today’s diet, especially for children. These products are included in 95% of the breakfast diets of children who actually eat breakfast2. With over 70% of children not meeting their daily calcium goal, breakfast suddenly becomes of huge importance2. It has also been noted that children who eat these types of products at breakfast are more likely to partake in them at later times of the day as well2.
As well, people who eat breakfast tend to have a higher intake of Vitamin C, fiber, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals4.
The rate of childhood obesity in our country, indeed across the entire globe, has, and continues to grow. While there are many factors which contribute to obesity, appetite regulation, and parental obesity to name a few3, skipping breakfast is also a predictor of childhood obesity.
One study, which assessed over ten thousand children between the ages of 9-18 showed a significant correlation between children who skipped breakfast and obesity4. Those children who skipped breakfast also tended to make poorer eating decisions throughout the rest of the day4. This could be partially attributed to unhealthy snacking to ‘get by’ until lunch time or less nutritional education.
Just as important as eating breakfast, is eating a healthy breakfast.
Here is a recipe that my daughter loves:
½ Cup oatmeal
Milk or Almond milk (to desired consistency)
Half a scoop of protein powder
A small handful of walnuts
A bigger handful of blueberries
A dash of flax for kicks
This is a great breakfast! It includes some healthy fats, a good dose of fiber and protein, and the vitamin and antioxidant power of blueberries.
A note on oatmeal: Don’t buy the prepackaged stuff. This is super high in sugar. If you need to sweeten your oatmeal, use a bit of honey instead (I like raw honey, but there are many different options!)
Here is one that I really enjoy:
½-1 Cup low-fat greek yogurt
A handful of blueberries
A handful of sliced strawberries
¼ cup of a healthy granola (be careful here, most packaged granolas are super high in sugar)
And one more:
Pre-cooked, chilled quinoa (½- 1 cup)
A splash of milk or almond milk
A Half-handful of walnuts (Or whatever kind of nut you prefer)
A handful of blackberries (Or raspberries)
These are fairly light breakfasts, but I tend to eat breakfast twice a day (if one is good, two must be better right?!). Feel free to throw in an egg, a piece of fruit, or whole grain toast to round these out into a full meal.
Even just starting out with a whole grain-type breakfast cereal is a great start, and much better than nothing!
Your children’s success in school starts at home… Just like you help them with their homework, help them with their diet. It’s important!
(1) Hoyland, A., Dye, L., & Lawton, C. L. (2009). A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(2), 220-243. doi:10.1017/S0954422409990175
(2) Ortega, R. M., Requejo, A. M., López-Sobaler, A. M., Andrés, P., Quintas, M. E., Navia, B., . . . Rivas, T. (1998). The importance of breakfast in meeting daily recommended calcium intake in a group of schoolchildren. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 17(1), 19.
(3) Cole, T. J. (2007). Early causes of child obesity and implications for prevention. Acta Pædiatrica, 96(454), 2-4. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2007.00162.x
(4) So, H. K., Nelson, E. A. S., Li, A. M., Guldan, G. S., Yin, J., Ng, P. C., & Sung, R. Y. T. (2011). Breakfast frequency inversely associated with BMI and body fatness in hong kong chinese children aged 9–18 years. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(5), 742-751. doi:10.1017/S0007114511000754