Well it’s that time of year again, the time for students of all ages to break away from the fun of summer and return to school. As we leave the dog days of summer behind, we boldly face new challenges and adventures at school or in college. It is a perfect time for us to make a fresh start and it seems every year kids promise themselves, “This year I am going to be a better student.” But does this promise also include starting each day off the right way with a healthy breakfast? It definitely should.
It has often been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but how many of us actually sit down to enjoy a healthy one? Eating a healthy breakfast not only helps to set our metabolism for the day (which means that it can help us to burn more calories), but studies have shown that it can also help improve scholastic performance. Studies from Harvard and Tufts Universities (among others) have demonstrated that students who eat a healthy breakfast tend to perform better academically, have better concentration, have an improved attention span, have a quicker and more accurate retrieval of information and make fewer errors in problem-solving activities. In addition, they also have less behavioral problems and miss less school.
Our brains need energy to perform their many cognitive functions. In fact, just reading this article requires energy to examine and understand it. The energy our bodies need comes from the foods that we eat, and some sources are better than others. Nutrient poor foods, like highly processed cereals with lots of added sugar, only provide a spurt of energy that does not last very long. Breakfasts that include complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole grains), natural simple sugars (fruits and non-fat or low fat milk), protein (egg white, non-fat or low fat milk) and fats (egg yolk, avocado, nuts and seeds) supply our bodies and brains with a more sustainable energy supply that will help us perform more efficiently for a longer period of time.
To better understand how a lack of energy can affect academic performance, try to recall a time when you were hungry. You probably felt cranky and irritable and were also restless. Now imagine a student feeling this same way in class. Do you think that that student is in the best frame of mind to learn? Probably not. Unfortunately many students in Los Angeles County go to school without having any breakfast at all.
Although breakfast can be whatever you want, fruits and vegetables – which are loaded with good things like fiber and antioxidants – are healthier choices. Healthy food choices will not only supply the energy our bodies need, but they can also help fight against some of the chronic diseases we are faced with. So be sure your breakfast includes fruits and vegetables, whole grain, non-fat or low fat dairy (or another source of calcium such as fortified soy or rice beverages) and a lean source of protein.
Of course, sitting down and enjoying a healthy breakfast is preferred, but sometimes with our rushed schedule this isn’t possible. However, this doesn’t mean breakfast should be skipped. For kids, some schools offer a breakfast service, but it is important to ensure they are educated on making healthy choices, as some schools still offer less-than-nutritious meal choices. Adults can take healthy foods with them to eat once they get to school or work.
Adults, keep in mind if you are a java drinker your morning cup may be packed with hidden calories from added fat and sugar. Some coffee concoctions can have 900 calories!
For more information on the Breakfast First Campaign, go to www.breakfastfirst.org.