It's easy to make a good start to the day Breakfast: More Americans are skipping the first meal, but they're also skipping some important benefits, nutritionists say.

April 02, 1997|By Wendy Lin | Wendy Lin,NEWSDAY

The American breakfast is getting more healthful, but fewer Americans are bothering to eat it.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the classic American breakfast of bacon, eggs, whole milk, white toast and butter is becoming rare. Taking its place is a breakfast of whole-grain breads and high-fiber, ready-to-eat cereals.

But the same study showed that 25 percent of adults don't eat breakfast at all, compared with 14 percent in 1961.

"That [old-fashioned] breakfast requires preparation," said Doris Derelian, a nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "The 1990s family has so much activity that has to be crammed into a day that something has to be given up. So, breakfast-eating is sacrificed."

The decline in breakfast-eating comes in the face of mounting evidence showing the benefits of a morning meal. Studies reveal that school attendance and classroom performance improve when children eat breakfast. And nutritionists say that adults perform better, eat more healthful meals later in the day and stay on their diets when they eat breakfast.

"If you don't eat, you're going to feel tired, slow and sluggish," said Derelian, "and you're going to feel incredibly hungry. In adults, you're going to get headaches, irritability and maybe some trembling. In kids, it absolutely interferes with their learning."

One study conducted by Ernesto Pollitt of the University of California, Davis, took 9- to 11-year-old children and gave half of them a 535-calorie breakfast of waffles, syrup, margarine, orange juice and milk at 7 a.m. The other half got a noncaloric, noncaffeinated drink. At 11: 30 a.m., the children were given a series of tests. After a week, the group that was given breakfast was given the drink, and vice versa.

Pollitt found that children who got breakfast committed fewer errors. He conducted a similar test, giving children a breakfast of milk, cereal with sugar, egg, juice and toast, and found that the ones who ate the breakfast had fewer arithmetic errors in tests.

"Give it to them," Pollitt said in a phone interview when asked about breakfast. Although his studies show improvements only in specific tasks performed by specific groups of children, he said, the body of evidence is clear. "If the child has breakfast, you will be sure that the probabilities of operating at a higher level will be greater, no doubt about it."

However, it's younger people who are increasingly turning their backs on breakfast. Today, 12 percent of schoolchildren do not eat any meal until lunch, according to the American Dietetic Association.

The effect of breakfast on adult performance has been more difficult to measure, said Derelian, who is a past president of the American Dietetic Association. Adults don't take standardized tests or perform comparable tasks.

"As an adult, the evidence is not clear," said Derelian. She admits that some adults can "habituate themselves to not having breakfast," but she still advocates a morning meal, especially for women, who routinely give up breakfast in the name of weight loss.

"American women believe that skipping breakfast is a weight-control behavior," she said. "Obviously, if the adult woman in the household does that, the children, particularly the young girls, are going to do the same thing."

Pamela Haines, co-author of the Chapel Hill study on adult breakfast patterns, is a specialist on diets of women from young to old. "Skipping breakfast is very clearly a weight-control mechanism among young women," she said. "For them, anything to do with gaining weight is abhorrent."

The growing trend toward younger women's dieting may be the reason so many are skipping breakfast, she said.

"Bad idea," said Sheah Rarback, a nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Just because you want to lose weight doesn't mean you want to lose nutrition."

High-fiber cereal with skim milk is a good way to get nutrients and is low in calories, Rarback said.

"Eating breakfast does not sabotage a weight-loss plan," she added. "In fact, it's just the opposite. When you're hungry, you make poor food choices. By having breakfast, you're not going to give in to that 10 a.m. temptation of eating whatever is around."

The next two recipes are from "Betty Crocker's New Eat and Lose Weight" (Macmillan, $21.95).

Lemon-poppy seed scones

Makes 8 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/3 cup stick margarine

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup milk

sugar for dusting, if desired

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, 1/4 cup sugar and the poppy seeds in a large bowl. Cut in margarine, using pastry blender or crisscrossing two knives, until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Mix lemon juice and milk; stir into flour mixture until dough leaves side of bowl and forms a ball.

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