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Breakfast: serve up a healthier you

Breakfast. It’s been called the most important meal of the day. But in our fast-paced world, it seems more like a full stop than a jump start. Rather than be late to work or school, it’s often easier to skip it and get on with the day.

As it turns out, skipping breakfast may not achieve the desired effect. A healthy breakfast, served up daily, can help you maintain a healthy weight, be more productive and lower your risk for chronic disease.

Breaking the fast revs up your metabolism.

When we wake, most of us have gone anywhere from 10 to 12 hours without eating. That’s long enough for our bodies to switch into fasting mode, which slows down the metabolism to conserve energy. In fasting mode, your body will not burn fat. Instead, it protects your stores of fat and burns muscle to ensure a constant stream of energy.

The only way to switch our bodies back into fat-burning mode is to eat healthful meals composed of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Studies prove it: Breakfast eaters are leaner than those who regularly skip breakfast. In fact, skipping breakfast increases your risk of obesity fourfold.

Fueling your brain sharpens your thinking.

Not only do extended periods without food put you into fasting mode, they cause your blood sugar levels to drop. A healthy breakfast can deliver glucose to your brain, which may make you more efficient and alert.

While it’s not proven that your diet can make you smarter, it certainly can’t hurt. Studies have shown significant improvement in memory for breakfast eaters as compared to non-breakfast eaters.

Increasing fiber intake reduces your risk of chronic disease.

A high-fiber breakfast is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even intestinal polyps and colon cancer. To enjoy these benefits, choose breakfast cereals with at least six grams of fiber per serving and fewer than ten grams of sugar per serving. Or choose whole-grain breads with trans-fat-free soft margarines or cholesterol-lowering spreads. Be sure to include fresh fruit for extra fiber and natural sweetness.

Health Tips

Your best bet for a healthy, energy-inducing breakfast is a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Look for whole grains, low-fat meats, dairy products, eggs and beans. But don’t restrict yourself to traditional breakfast foods. Eat last night’s leftovers or a sandwich. Just make sure it has protein, fiber and a low-fat content.

If time is an issue, prepare your breakfast the night before. Or stock your pantry with grab-and-go items such as fresh fruit, granola bars and individual boxes of cereal. Keep yogurt and hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator. Or consider making healthful muffins over the weekend and freezing them individually wrapped. Pop it in the microwave and voila! It’s ready to go in seconds.

Have a little more time? Try a smoothie made with a blend of fruits, low-fat yogurt, wheat germ and protein powder.

It doesn’t have to be hard. So wake up and smell the breakfast. The choices are endless, and so are the benefits.