The importance of breakfast

Scripps Howard News Service

In Cohasset, Mass., lives Judy Lyden, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator who has the same name as this columnist. This Judy Lyden owns and operates a private practice in nutrition and health management. She is constantly challenged by her clients' misconceptions about healthy eating.

I asked her about breakfast, because parents often neglect breakfast, and some children come to school without breakfast.

The dietitian offers her advice:

Breakfast is the most important meal, setting the stage for metabolic function, getting the intestinal tract in motion and giving the body the energy needed to work. Too many carbohydrates are not good, because the body stores extra carbs as fat. Too much fat is not good either.

Balance carbs with protein _ a concept embraced by high- protein cereals such as the brands Kashi, Hi-Lo, Optimum, ZOI and the new Hi Protein Total. They add a good deal of fiber and additional vitamins and minerals to the diet.

She advocates skim or 1 percent milk because of minimal saturated fat content. But for children younger than 2 and those who are underweight, whole milk is a better choice. A cupful at breakfast adds protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins D and A, potassium and several B vitamins. That's a lot of nutrition for about 90 calories.

For school-age children, often the issue is "quick and easy."

Grab-and-go options make sense, so go with the popular cereal bars, yogurt with granola, yogurt smoothies and meal-replacement beverages such as the brands Boost, Sweet Success, Go Lean Shakes and Carnation Instant Breakfast.

Try hard-boiled eggs, peanut-butter sandwiches on whole-grain bread with all-fruit spreads. Or, better yet, try Judy's favorite: peanut butter and banana. Complete the combo with juice or an apple.

Consider the variables. Some kids eat lunch at 1 p.m., and some at 10:30 a.m. A breakfast such as the whole-grain sandwich with peanut butter and banana, with a substantial amount of calories, helps the late-luncher, while a lighter breakfast, such as a high-fiber cereal with fruit and skim milk, would suffice for the latter.

Protein is the key ingredient. It breaks down to usable energy in three to four hours, compared with 30 to 90 minutes for carbohydrates. Protein contributes to mental alertness. Carbs invoke a serotonin response and make a child less aware and often sleepy.

Judy encourages her clients to research options to balance a diet for breakfast. A grain, a protein, a fruit and a dairy _ just one serving of each _ is a nice balance.

Breakfast does not have to be traditional. Burritos are a great choice. They have grain, protein and cheese. Add an apple or 4 ounces of juice, and you're good to go.

Understanding the function of food can help older children make better choices when they want to excel at everything they do. That means learning which sport uses more energy from carbs, such as running track or playing soccer. An adequate intake of carbs should precede the activity by at least 30 minutes.

Endurance sports require a constant replacement of carbs. Sports drinks are absorbed very quickly to provide needed energy and keep the body hydrated.

Replenishing the muscles by replacing the carbs burned during exercise should be done within two to three hours after the exercise.

The muscles must then be rebuilt with adequate protein between events. There's a lot to sports nutrition, and it's critical to performance.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)