Consumer Reports Insights: Breakfast is important; tips for making it nutritious

Monday, January 10, 2011; 7:46 PM

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It not only helps you get your full quota of daily vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, but it can also help you maintain a healthy weight, control your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and improve your sensitivity to insulin, which regulates blood sugar.

It may even help you live longer. Regularly eating breakfast was among the key behaviors linked to longevity in the Georgia Centenarian Study, which tracked hundreds of older Americans from 1988 to 2009 to determine which variables predicted a longer-than-average life span.

People who regularly eat breakfast have lower rates of Type 2 diabetes and are less likely to develop heart failure over their lifetime than those who don't, research suggests. But breakfast also has more immediate benefits: It boosts your energy and improves your cognition, memory and problem-solving skills.

Profile of a breakfast What to include

l Protein. Aim for about 12 grams from lean sources such as eggs or an egg substitute (about six grams per large egg or egg equivalent), low-fat cottage cheese (14 grams per half-cup) or yogurt (13 grams per cup).

l Carbohydrates. Choose complex ones, such as whole-grain bread or cereal, fruit and vegetables.

l Heart-healthy fat. Good sources include canola or olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish such as salmon.

What to avoid

l Bad fats. Keep saturated fat to a minimum by steering clear of full-fat meat and dairy products. Avoid trans fat, which is found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

l Sugar. Women should get no more than 6.5 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar daily; men, no more than 9.5 teaspoons (38 grams). Some cereals have more than that in a single serving.

Your breakfast pantry

Ideally, you should eat breakfast within the first hour or two of waking. Aim to get 20 to 25 percent of your total daily calories from the meal, and include a mix of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. That will keep you fuller than a meal of just carbs. Here are some of the best options:

l Cereal. A bowl of cold cereal can be a great breakfast, especially if mixed with low-fat yogurt. Tasty high-fiber options from Consumer Reports' 2009 tests included Kirkland Signature Cinnamon Pecan (Costco), Kashi GoLean and Post Shredded Wheat Spoon Size Wheat 'n Bran.

l Hot cereal. Make slow-cooked or instant oatmeal with milk instead of water, and mix it with raisins, dried cranberries, slivered almonds or chopped walnuts.

l Eggs. Having them at breakfast helps dieters lose weight, research suggests, possibly because they're so filling that they reduce the chance of overeating later. People with normal levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol who limit their intake of saturated fat can safely eat up to seven eggs a week; those with high LDL should limit themselves to four or use egg whites or an egg substitute.

l Yogurt. Consumer Reports' experts especially recommend nonfat Greek yogurt, which is high in protein. Top it with fresh fruit and a tablespoon or two of chopped nuts or seeds.

l Breakfast breads. Skip the butter, syrup and whipped cream on French toast, pancakes or waffles in favor of fruit or low-fat ricotta cheese flavored with cinnamon or vanilla extract.

l Open-faced sandwich. Spread peanut butter on whole-wheat toast and top with fresh apple or banana slices.

l Smoothies. Blend bananas, berries or other fruit with low-fat milk or yogurt.

l Grab-and-go meals. Keep instant oatmeal packets, low-fat cheese or whole-grain cereal bars on hand for days when you have to eat and run (or eat on the run).

l Dinner for breakfast. If you're not a fan of traditional breakfast fare, have lunch or dinner foods instead.

(c) Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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