Eating breakfast tops most “Best Nutrition Tips” lists. The benefits are numerous and include enhanced vitamin and mineral intake, weight control, clearer thinking and a way to get metabolism in gear for the day. An almost universal behavior among people who have maintained a weight loss is the inclusion of breakfast. Scientists from London’s Imperial College studied MRI changes in breakfast eaters and skippers. Their data was presented at the 2012 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.
Twenty-one volunteers either ate a 750-calorie breakfast or had no breakfast at all; this was followed by an MRI. Lunch was served after the scan. When breakfast was skipped, there was a variation in the pattern of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, the area behind and above the eyes that can affect decisions regarding the pleasantness and reward value of food. When fasting participants were shown pictures of high-calorie food, this area of the brain was activated, a reaction less strong than when they had eaten breakfast. Researchers conclude that their findings reveal why fasting is not the best way to lose weight since it creates a “bias” in that brain that makes us seek higher-calorie food rewards.
Breakfast is a time of day, not a type of food. If there is leftover salmon and spinach from dinner and that is appealing then, go for it. Cereal eaters should look for a brand low in sugar and high in whole grains and fiber. General breakfast guidelines are to include lean protein such as Greek yogurt, fat-free or soy milk, low sodium deli meat or eggs. Pair the protein with whole grains and a fruit or vegetable, and your orbitofrontal cortex should be in control.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.