Nutrition Q&A: How to get a healthy start in the morning

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Q: I’m always eating breakfast on the run, which isn’t always the healthiest. Any suggestions?

A: February is National Hot Breakfast Month so this is a great time to talk about the importance of starting each day by eating a healthy breakfast. While breakfast can be healthy without being hot, the colder days of February are a great time to enjoy a hot breakfast.

Breakfast means “breaking the fast,” or refueling your body after going without food all night. Food is the fuel that keeps your body going, and refueling at breakfast helps you perform and feel better. Breakfast is important to:

Replenish blood sugar: Because it’s been eight to 12 hours since your last meal or snack, your body and brain need more food to replenish their blood sugar, or glucose.

Energize the body: Eating breakfast energizes you, enables you to be more productive in the late morning, and helps you feel less tired throughout the day. It gives you more endurance and strength, muscle coordination, better concentration and memory, as well as better problem-solving ability.

Perform better at school and work: Studies have shown that when children have breakfast, they are more alert, participate more fully in school activities, and they usually are on their best behavior. They have longer attention spans, score better on tests and improve their grades, are tardy or absent less often and make fewer visits to the school nurse. They also are not as easily distracted and are less fidgety, irritable or tired. (This applies to adults in the work place, too!)

Achieve healthy weight: Eating breakfast provides fuel to jump start your metabolism after fasting all night. Another key to weight control is to establish a regular eating pattern, which typically means eating every three or four hours throughout the day.

Get adequate nutrition: Breakfast skippers may not get the missed nutrients at other meals and snacks during the day.

Reduce risk for heart disease: Breakfast helps provide adequate nutrition that decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease. In general, breakfast eaters tend to eat less fat during the day, while breakfast skippers tend to have a higher blood cholesterol level, which puts them at risk for heart disease.

Get enough fiber: Without breakfast, it is hard to get adequate fiber, vitamins and minerals. Look for a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

It’s easy to get excited about including hot cooked cereals for breakfast, especially when some of the major chains (i.e. McDonald’s, Starbucks) now have oatmeal on their breakfast menus. A few examples of fiber-rich cooked cereals include: oatmeal, rolled oats, grits and whole-grain couscous.

To add flavor and nutrition to cooked cereals:

Whether your cereal is hot or cold, it should be nutrient dense and contain plenty of fiber but very little sugar and fat. Generally a one-ounce serving of hot or cold breakfast cereal should contain: 100-200 calories (ideally less than 120 calories); protein (2 or more grams); fiber (3 grams or more, preferably 5 grams or more); sugar (8 grams or less); and fat (less than 3 grams of fat and no trans fat).

Try these french toast sticks or this breakfast tortilla with orange juice and milk:

French Toast Sticks

1 egg

1/3 cup skim milk

1/2 cup strawberry preserves

8 slices day-old bread

confectioners/ sugar (optional)

In a small bowl, beat egg and milk; set aside. Spread preserves on four slices of bread; top with remaining bread. Trim crusts; cut each sandwich into three strips. Dip both sides in egg mixture and cook on a lightly greased hot griddle for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Dust with confectioners’ sugar if desired. Makes four servings.

Nutrition Facts for one serving: 284 calories, 319 milligrams sodium, 3.5 grams fat, 11 percent calories from fat.

Breakfast Tortilla

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 bell pepper, chopped

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

1/4 cup nonfat egg substitute or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten

1 chopped tomato

1 warmed 8-inch fat-free whole-wheat tortilla

In a medium nonstick skillet, saute pepper and onion in vegetable oil until golden, about 3 minutes. Add cumin and crushed red pepper. Add egg product and cook until no longer runny, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato. Spoon onto tortilla and roll up. Serves one.

Each serving: 159 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 300 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams fiber, 10 grams protein.

— Susan Johnson is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.