Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 107 Iyar, 5763

SLIM CHANCES: Eat those breakfast grains for nutrition gains

By Bev Bennett | Breakfast, the meal you're most likely to skip, may be the most important one of the day, if you want to avoid weight gain and chronic disease. Evidence suggests that as long as you eat a morning meal, you're probably going to have a better health outcome, even if your menu doesn't consist of the most nutritious foods.

That's the conclusion reached by a team of researchers who tracked the dietary habits of more than 2,800 Americans, ages 25 to 37, for eight years as part of the federally funded Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study to reduce risk factors for heart disease earlier in life.

"This research demonstrates that something so simple as eating breakfast can reduce your risk of obesity and insulin resistance syndrome,'' says Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., with Northwestern University in Chicago, and one of the investigators.

Volunteers who reported eating breakfast regularly were about 30 percent to 50 percent less likely to become obese, the researchers found. This group also had a 30 percent to 50 percent reduced risk of developing insulin resistance syndrome, a metabolic disorder that can cause high blood pressure, high triglycerides levels and an increased chance of developing diabetes.

Although breakfast itself is a boon, the more wholesome your meal, the greater your health benefits, says Mark Pereira, a research associate at Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass., and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Reviewing the food histories of the volunteers shows those who ate whole-grain cereals for breakfast every day had a lower risk of insulin resistance syndrome and obesity, compared to those who did not eat breakfast or who rarely ate whole-grain cereals.

"We know from other studies that the quality of foods you eat is important'' says Pereira. "People who eat breakfast every day are better off, and people who eat whole grains are better off. Doing both is the best situation -- better than doughnuts and bagels.''

Researchers aren't sure, however, what exact role breakfast plays in good health. Speculating from other studies, Pereira suggests that breakfast may speed up your metabolism so that you burn more calories. Or breakfast may break up an overnight fast and restore blood sugars.

"If you don't restore food when you awaken,'' he says, "your body is going to think it's in a famine and you'll overeat.''

The study also doesn't specify how much the volunteers ate, or whether breakfast eaters topped their cereals with fruit and low-fat milk, which could provide additional benefits.

The whole-grains finding confirms other research, says Pereira. Whole-grain cereals are a good source of soluble fiber, which may help reduce cholesterol.

Whole grains are also an excellent source for fiber. "Unless you're eating high-fiber, whole-grain cereal for breakfast, you're going to have a hard time meeting your fiber needs the rest of the day,'' says Van Horn.

However, don't think you can eat whatever you want during the the rest of the day, cautions Alice Lichenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

"You can't take a piece of whole-wheat bread and put an ice-cream sundae on it and negate the effects of the ice-cream sundae,'' she says. "It won't happen. You need to substitute out other foods to get more whole grains.''

In selecting whole-grain cereals, check the food labels carefully. Look for the word "whole'' so you're not getting a refined grain that has the appearance of the whole grain.

Foods are listed in order of prominence in an ingredient list. The higher up on the list, the greater percentage of whole grains you're getting in your cereal.

Also take a look on the cereal package. Whole-grain cereals are allowed to use health claims linking the cereal to a reduced risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Bev Bennett is co-author of "The Dictionary of Healthful Food Terms.'' Comment by clicking here.


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