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Start your day with good stuff

September 18, 2006|Andreas von Bubnoff | Special to The Times

If you're going to eat breakfast, what should you eat? Nutritionists and health experts don't have bear claws or Froot Loops in mind. They generally recommend foods that release their energy slowly and keep the body satisfied for a long time ones rich in fiber (whole grains, for example) or protein. Most of these experts also recommend milk or other dairy products and fruits. Breakfast "is the easiest time to eat nutritious food without any effort," says Barbara Rolls, professor and chair of nutritional sciences at Penn State University. "It takes so little time to pour yourself a bowl of cereal" of the right kind, of course.

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Get some fiber. Studies show that high-fiber breakfasts leave people less hungry for longer stretches of the day. A 2001 analysis of about a dozen studies reported that when people consumed an extra 14 grams per day of fiber (compared with the 15 grams daily that Americans generally eat) after two days they consumed, on average, 10% fewer caloriesand lost an average of 4.2 pounds over about four months. Rolls recommends cereal containing as much fiber as you find palatable: "In the winter, I have oatmeal and add extra brans to bump up the fiber," she says. (Another reason to add fiber: The American Heart Assn. recommends adults eat 25 to 30 grams a day.)

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Bulk your food. Rolls recommends eating cereal with low-fat milk and adding fruits not only for their nutrients but also to bulk it up without adding lots of calories. Studies show that increasing the volume that way helps people stay satisfied and eat less. Her own preference is to use nonfat yogurt instead of milk. "That makes it more substantial," she says. Studies show that people feel they've eaten more if a food feels thicker. A 2001 study of 84 adults found that they were less hungry a few hours after being served drinks artificially thickened to make the texture more viscous.

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Get more protein. That's the top choice for Susan Bowerman, a registered dietitian and assistant director at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Studies suggest that protein-rich diets are satisfying, leading people to consume fewer calories. One 2005 study in 19 adults showed that a 12-week diet consisting of 30% protein reduced energy intake for the rest of the day by about 440 calories compared with a diet with 15% protein.Bowerman recommends a shake of milk or soy milk, with whey protein powder added. (Other options are nonfat cottage cheese, yogurt or an egg white omelet.) She recommends fruits on the side and whole grains from cereal, toast or a muffin. One sample breakfast: cottage cheese or yogurt topped with whole grain granola and fruit.

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Go easy on sugar and refined grains.

That's what David Benton, a psychology professor at Swansea University in Wales, advises. Eat foods that release energy slowly such as an egg, oats or bran flakes but not corn flakes.The reason? Staying sharp mentally. In a 2003 study with 106 female undergraduate students, Benton found that a breakfast that releases glucose more slowly resulted in better recall of words after a few hours. This is probably because protein and fiber in these more complex foods slows down the release of glucose, avoiding rushes and crashes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Avoiding glucose and insulin spikes could also be why eating whole grains is associated with lower weight and lower mortality, says Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

A 2003 study of more than 86,000 male physicians found that after 5.5 years, the ones who ate whole grain cereals at least once a day were 17% less likely to die of cardiovascular diseases than those who rarely or never ate cereal. The cereal-eaters were also 22% less likely to be overweight eight years later.

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