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What? Vegetables for Breakfast

  By: Lori Gigantelli, RD, LMNT

There are a couple key points to be made when speaking of breakfast... energy regulation and essential nutrient distribution.  Regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight or train for a marathon, fueling your body to compensate for your daily energy expenditures is crucial. It is important to scrutinize the foods we use to provide fuel for our body.  Fuel (energy) is provided to our bodies in the form of carbohydrate, protein and fat.  These energy sources come from foods that also provide essential vitamins, minerals and other health promoting properties making some food superior to others.

When one considers a typical American breakfast one might think of items found on the standard menu at a breakfast cafe...pancakes, waffles, potatoes, sausage, bacon, eggs, with additional carbohydrate options such as bagel, toast or English muffin. Many of these breakfast choices offer large carbohydrate portions often served with butter, syrup and jams, plus the added calories of high fat breakfast meats. Lighter menu options might include yogurt, oatmeal and fruit but these menu choices are usually sides, extras or a la carte, not the focus of the menu. Perhaps an American breakfast from home is taken on the fly, during a fast and furious dash to get out the door in the morning.  Maybe the pantry is stocked with breakfast style bars or dry cereal that can be eaten on the run. Neither of these scenarios offers an everyday ideal way to maintain energy regulation nor will they provide the broad spectrum of essential nutrients to begin your day.  Careful addition of plant based foods to your breakfast and a little extra time planned into your morning can assure that your diet is rich in essential vitamins, minerals and other protective properties. 

In building our diet, consider the lifestyles of the centenarians in the United States and around the world. In the book The Blue Zone, the author explored areas of the globe with the largest populations of centenarians (people living to 100 years or longer). The centenarians of Ikarian, Greece were noted to rely on a diet defined as an extreme version of the Mediterranean diet comprised of vegetables, whole grains, fruit, olive oil and occasionally fish. According to the first Adventist Health Study, funded by the National Institute of Health, which followed 34,000 Adventists in California for 14 years, the diet of Seventh Day Adventist yields the healthiest of Americans. Gary Fraser of Loma Linda University, concludes the following are the contributing dietary and lifestyle attributes of the Adventist  practices, each adding about two years to life expectancy:
  • Eating a plant based diet with only small amounts of dairy and fish
  • Eating a handful of nuts 4-5 times per week
  • Maintaining medium body weight
  • Doing regular physical activity
  • No smoking

Source: The Blue Zone Solution, by Dan Buetner

What's In Your Diet?

Let’s explore the food you (and perhaps your children) eat on a typical day. Do you include plant based foods such as fruits, nuts and seeds during your morning intake? Have you stopped to think when you/your child will bite into your first vegetable of the day?  It is not unheard of to find children eating their first vegetable at the last meal of the day. This makes it rather difficult for children to get in the recommended 1-3 cups of vegetables per day. Adults are perhaps more aware and make effort to include garden rich ingredients during lunch and snacks. The recommended daily amount of vegetables for adults ranges from 2.5-3 cups, so why not start off the day with vegetables as part of your breakfast?

When planning a veggie-filled breakfast, make it a complete meal by including whole grains and a protein source. The breakfast suggestions listed at right include whole grains (bran included) which contain fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. Many include cheese as a source of protein, vitamin D and calcium however, you may want to include a dairy serving on days when non-dairy protein is consumed.

Why is it important to eat vegetables?
Eating vegetables provide health benefits, such as those listed below. People who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of a healthy diet often have a reduced risk of disease. Vegetables also provide nutrients vital for maintenance of your body.

Nutrients

- Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol.

- Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

-Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.

- Dietary fiber from vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.

- Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, and in addition 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.

- Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.

- Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy.

- Vitamin C aids in iron absorption.

Health benefits
- Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

- Eating a diet rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers.

- Diets rich in foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

- Eating vegetables and fruits rich in potassium as part of an overall healthy diet may lower blood pressure, and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.

- Eating foods such as vegetables that are lower in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be useful in helping to lower calorie intake.