Breakfast Benefits

There are more reasons breakfast ranks as the "most important meal of the day," according to a new study reported at the American Heart Association's 43rd Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in March. The good news is that rates of obesity and insulin resistance syndrome were 35 percent to 50 percent lower among people who ate breakfast every day compared with those who frequently skipped it. The bad news is that after assessing the breakfast habits and risk factors for heart disease of 1,198 black and 1,633 white participants for a period of eight years, researchers found that only about 47 percent of whites and 22 percent of blacks ate breakfast daily.

Why is breakfast so vital? According to coauthor Mark A. Pereira, PhD, a research associate at Children's Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, eating breakfast appears to reduce the risk of insulin resistance, a metabolic disorder in which the body loses its ability to respond to the hormone insulin, which is needed to convert blood sugar to energy. Those with insulin resistance are at greater risk of developing both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The simple habit of refueling in the morning also increases energy and might help prevent overeating later in the day, Pereira says.

Best bets for breakfast, according to Pereira, are fiber-rich whole-grain cereals, such as oatmeal and bran cereal, which are associated with a 15 percent reduction in risk for insulin resistance syndrome, as well as improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

—Christine DeOrio