Why you should not skip breakfast

The human brain constitutes a mere 2% of our total body weight yet uses between 20-50% of our energy intake from food. This super-functioning organ requires constant energy to power its electrical activity, even at rest. As soon as you begin to think in earnest, either in the classroom, or office, or simply negotiating busy traffic, brain neural activity intensifies and the demand for glucose increases dramatically. After fasting for the night blood glucose levels are low and you need to eat breakfast in order to raise them and increase glucose availability to the brain.

Extensive research now supports the often-quoted slogan that you cannot learn on an empty stomach. Yet unfortunately the evidence suggests that more and more people, especially adolescents, are tending to skip this vital meal. Recent research at Harvard Medical School has shown that children who consistently ate breakfast out performed those children who usually skipped this meal. They had consistently better maths scores (40% better), much lower absenteeism rates, and were emotionally and behaviourally better off. For instance non-breakfast-eaters were four times as likely to be anxious and twice as likely to suffer depression. A lack of breakfast was also associated with a 30% increase in hyperactivity and a variety of other psychosocial problems, as assessed by teaching staff. The good news is that as soon as the non-breakfast-eaters starting eating breakfast their academic performance improved significantly, as did their sense of emotional well-being and behaviour.

Dr Murphy of the Harvard Medical School had this to say, “When kids who rarely ate breakfast started eating breakfast consistently, their maths grades on average soared a whole letter, from a C to a B.” Reason enough to encourage every child to eat breakfast!

Dr David Benton, a psychologist at the University of Swansea in the UK, has also demonstrated the importance of breakfast for adults. He found that breakfast eaters had higher levels of blood glucose and demonstrated improved memory function in a variety of tests. They outperformed non-breakfast eaters who consistently demonstrated a reduced ability to recall information as well as retain new information. When this group was given breakfast their memory function performance improved immediately.

While Dr Benton concluded that ‘eating anything in the morning is better than eating nothing’ the best type of breakfast should consist of wholegrain cereals, milk and fresh fruit. This food combination will provide a sustained supply of glucose throughout the morning, as well as the critical vitamins and minerals that are needed for the brain to effectively convert glucose into energy.

Linda Scott is completing her MSc in Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, UK

This article has been sponsored by McNab’s Nutritional Company, promoting responsible nutrition. Tel 011 442 5010; mail@mcnabs-tabs.com; www.mcnabs-tabs.com