Starting the Day Right
By Sheila Buff
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially for those looking to lose weight or to keep it off.
When you wake up in the morning, you probably haven’t eaten anything for at least eight hours. Even while you were asleep, your body was still using energy, and now your blood-sugar level is low. Your body is screaming for food, but you may end up ignoring its call. Morning can be a very busy time; to save a few precious minutes while getting the kids off to school and yourself off to work, you might skip breakfast. Or maybe you’ve decided that skipping breakfast is a good way to cut your daily intake of calories and lose weight. Either way, you’re starting your day while running on empty—a strategy that’s bound to backfire.
The Beauty of Breakfast
Skipping meals in general is not an effective weight-loss tactic. You lose out on overall nutrition, and you’ll almost certainly make up for the calories in the missing meal by snacking and eating larger meals at other times. Skipping breakfast is particularly bad for weight loss. If you don’t fuel up for the day with a good low carb breakfast, you’re likely to get that mid-morning energy slump that can trigger carbohydrate cravings and make the coffee cart goodies irresistible at break time. Eating breakfast will get your blood sugar onto an even keel right away and help keep it there as the day goes on. Your energy levels stay steady, your mood improves and your mind remains alert.
Several interesting studies suggest that eating breakfast actually speeds weight loss and helps you keep it off. A study in 1992 compared weight loss between two groups of overweight women: those who had usually skipped breakfast in the past and those who usually ate breakfast. As long as the breakfast skippers continued to skip breakfast, they lost weight—but when they switched to eating breakfast, they lost weight faster.1 In another study in 1997, researchers found that participants who ate their largest meal of the day as breakfast lost more weight than those who ate their largest meal in the evening.2 Most telling of all, perhaps, is research suggesting that breakfast is a secret weapon for keeping weight off once you’ve lost it. Nearly 80 percent of the participants in the National Weight Control Registry—people who have lost large amounts of weight and have kept it off for at least five years—report that they eat breakfast every day.3
When you’re doing the Atkins Nutritional ApproachTM, you need to have a good low carb breakfast. A lot of favorite breakfast foods, however, are high in carbohydrates and nutrient deficient. A typical bowl of cereal—even one of the unsweetened so-called “healthy” brands—and milk contains about 35 grams of carbohydrates. Doughnuts, toaster pastries, bagels, frozen waffles, pancakes—all are high in carbs and offer little in the way of real nutrition, and most also contain dangerous trans fats. These carb-rich foods can send your blood sugar soaring and then make it crash well before lunchtime. At that point you’ll be hungry and irritable—and ready to eat anything in sight.
It’s easy to find low carb alternatives to the usual breakfast choices. The traditional favorite, eggs, may be too time-consuming for you to make every morning, but hard-boiled eggs can easily be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. For accompaniments to eggs, check your supermarket for frozen precooked sausage patties, precooked bacon and similar high-protein foods that can be heated quickly in the microwave or toaster oven. Cheese slices, sliced tomatoes, avocado, even leftovers from the night before—all are quick, easy and satisfying.
If you like something sweet at breakfast, use some of your carb grams to enjoy berries tossed with ricotta cheese. You can also enjoy Atkins white or rye bread, each of which has only 3 grams of Net Carbs per slice, topped with some low carb jam. Once you’re into Lifetime Maintenance you can probably enjoy toasting a slice of 100-percent whole-grain bread and slathering it with no-sugar-added peanut butter.
Other breakfast treats for people doing the later phases of Atkins are the low carb, high-nutrition pancakes and waffles you can make with Pancake & Waffle Mix; serve them with Sugar Free Pancake Syrup. Make some extras for Sunday brunch and freeze them for fast breakfasts later in the week. If you can’t imagine starting the day without cereal, have hot or cold AtkinsTM Cereal with soy milk (only 4 Net Carb grams in 8 fluid ounces).
For those frantic mornings when you just can’t sit down to a real breakfast, take the grab-and-go approach with an Atkins AdvantageTM Bar or an AtkinsTM Ready-to-Drink Shake. They’re great substitutes.
Breakfast and the Common Cold
Can eating breakfast keep you from catching cold? Possibly, according to a recent study in Wales. Researchers at the University of Cardiff had a hundred members of the community keep diet and health diaries for 10 weeks. Based on the information they recorded, the researchers found that the people who were most likely to get sick with a cold were those who did not eat breakfast.4 A similar 1999 study found that people who ate breakfast every day reported better overall mental and physical health than those who did not eat breakfast regularly.5
Sheila Buff is a health writer and the coauthor of Dr. Atkins' Age-Defying Diet (St. Martin's, 2000).