Who doesn't love breakfast?

Plenty of people, believe it or not. As some become more knowledgeable about the importance of nutrients at the beginning of the day, others refuse to join The Breakfast Club. Their reasons are many: they can't look at food early in the morning, they want to skip breakfast to lose weight; they swig down two cups of coffee and choose discomfort or hunger pangs over a plate of food.

Breakfast's reputation has suffered recently, partly because it was traditionally rich in cholesterol. And, on a purely emotional level, it is associated with the early morning, a time that many people prefer to spend in bed. Think of the bad name that breakfast has received. And before you claim you are not responsible, swear that none of the eight thoughts that follow has ever echoed through your mind at 7 a.m.:

1. If I skip breakfast, I'll lose weight.

This kind of "diet" doesn't usually work because ravenous people "have a tendency to overeat at lunch," emphasizes Mary Hankey, nutritionist at the Lipid Research Clinic at The George Washington University. The splurge at lunch, continues Hankey, "more than makes up for the 'saved' calories" at breakfast.

"A prolonged fast, such as from dinner to lunch the next day, also causes your metabolism to 'overshoot normal' at the next meal, resulting in the more efficient laying down of fat at the next meal," adds Dr. M.R.C. (Marcie) Greenwood, biology professor at Vassar College. Repeated dieting in this way, continues Greenwood, accentuates the metabolic effect so that a person "gains weight back faster and loses more slowly each time."

Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Conner, professor for family medicine at the University of California, has also found that meal-skipping is associated with obesity and related diseases. "People who eat more meals and consume the same amount of calories are less likely to be fat. Gorging has a bad effect on the way your body uses and stores fat."

Instead of spacing several smaller meals, explains Dr. Estelle Ramey, professor of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University Medical School, many overweight people eat a large amount all at once and are too lethargic to move around and use up calories after the meal the way thinner people do.

2. Traditional breakfasts -- cereals, breads and pancakes -- are fattening.

Instead, all of these foods, especially the whole-grain varieties -- contribute valuable nutrients (protein, B vitamins, calcium and iron) and fiber, which give you a satisfied feeling and keep you from snacking during the day on richer foods. Oatmeal is especially good because it lowers cholesterol. And pancakes made with yogurt or cottage cheese are a "lightweight" treat for dieters.

3. Making breakfast takes too long.

Some breakfast-skippers think a good morning meal consists of steak, ham or sausage and eggs -- too much trouble to fix before running off to work. Actually, many people eat too much protein, which hinders calcium absorption. You can get all you need (eight-tenths of a gram for each kilogram you weigh) with easy-to-fix cereals, bread and dairy products. For 12 grams, have a bowl of Cheerios (11/4 cups) with a cup of milk, or eat a cup of yogurt. Filling protein needs with dairy products is a good idea for women, who need calcium to build bones before age 35 and to prevent later bone loss.

4. Breakfast is boring.

Only if the cook doesn't use imagination, says Dr. William Castelli, director of the Framingham Heart Study. To avoid dangerous cholesterol levels, use low- cholesterol recipes to keep your menus exciting as well as healthful for your heart, recommends Castelli. For a change in the morning, vary shapes, colors, textures, tastes and temperatures. Try seven- grain waffles, with marinated fresh strawberries, sushi and brown rice, broiled Canadian bacon and hot spiced apples, lentil soup and a raw vegetable salad, zucchini and carrot bread or cottage cheese and chives on a pumpernickel bagel.

To save time on workdays, Nancy Ernst, a nutritionist at the National Institute of the Heart, Lung and Blood, stocks the refrigerator over the weekend with a huge bowl of mixed fresh fruits, low-fat cheeses and whole grain breads.

5. Why eat breakfast when I can pop a few vitamin and mineral pills?

Unless you know exactly the dose you need and how much is in your food, says Ramey, there is a strong chance of toxic overdose. Ramey warns especially of taking iron pills, since some people tend to deposit iron in their tissues.

Menstruating women have a high iron requirement to prevent anemia (18 milligrams a day, compared with 10 for women over 50 and men), but should get it from iron-rich foods. It would take an enormous quantity to do you any harm. Men can become iron deficient, too.

How do you know? If you're not generally tired, says Ramey, you probably are getting enough iron. Some common breakfast foods rich with iron are cereals with iron supplements, oatmeal (1 cup contains 1.4 mg.), raisins (1/2 cup contains 3.5 mg.), prune PAGE 47 juice (1/2 cup contains 4.1 mg.), whole wheat muffin (1.5 mg.) or one egg yolk (1 mg.).

When pills or liquid formula replace food, your fiber intake goes down. Barrett- Conner's research shows that overweight people who often take vitamin pills habitually do not get enough fiber. These dieters are vulnerable to diseases of the colon such as constipation, hemorrhoids and even cancer.

In his book The California Diet, Dr. Peter Wood, professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, recommends never going below 1,200 calories a day so that you can eat enough food to get all the vitamins, minerals and fiber you need. Studies show that fiber also lowers cholesterol and thereby the risk of heart disease.

6. Breakfast means bacon and eggs, and they are rated X -- high in cholesterol.

If you don't have a problem with cholesterol, advises Hankey, you can still enjoy three or four eggs and two or three slices of bacon a week. Fry your bacon until it is crisp and drain on paper towels. If your cholesterol is high, limit yourself to one or two eggs and skip the bacon.

Would a cholesterol-conscious nutritionist ever consider bacon and eggs? "Sure," says Ernst. "You're not going to develop cardiovascular disease if your diet is cholesterol perfect for six days and then you splurge on the seventh." Instead of thinking, "I can only have 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day (one egg yolk)," budget your cholesterol over a week, or over two, three or four weeks. Eating should not be a burden."

What's cooking the other days? For Castelli, the solution is easy: two egg whites fried in a non-stick pan.

7. Everything I read seems to suggest women shouldn't even drink coffee at breakfast.

The controversy on caffeine continues, but most controlled studies have not found an association between caffeine (coffee, tea, colas, chocolate) and benign fibrocystic breast disease. However, one study did show that more than four or five cups of a caffeinated beverage doubled the risk of certain vulnerable women. To play it safe, Ernst drinks a "reasonable amount -- three cups a day." Drink decaffeinated beverages or take a suggestion from Ernst, who mixes her own coffee beans -- half and half caffeinated and decaf.

8. I'm not hungry in the morning.

You may be one of the lucky few who can work productively all morning on an empty stomach. But morning fasting in the overweight is a sign of depression caused by stress, says Dr. Albert J. Stunkard, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Overweight people may fall into a night-eating, morning-fasting syndrome. The more overweight they are, the less likely they are to eat breakfast." The syndrome continues until the stressful situation improves. He does not urge these people to eat breakfast during this period because taking in more calories just makes the weight problem and the depression worse.

For those who do enjoy eating in the morning, what makes the best breakfast? Ernst encourages you to include at least one-quarter of your daily nutritional requirements. The odds are that you won't have the chance to meet all your needs later in the day. If you are making any changes in your diet though, go slowly. Your body needs time to adjust.

To have a healthful breakfast, the experts say, a course in nutrition is not necessary. It's a matter of simple mathematics. Divide the calories you need to maintain your best weight mainly among lean meats, seafood, dairy products, whole grain cereals and breads, fruits and vegetables. Have about one-quarter of your calories for breakfast and you can count yourself a dues-paying member of the club.