Gail Frank’s voice, soft and southern, made its way through a sea of scientific data. I met her for breakfast at a cozy coffee shop in Seal Beach, Calif., and while we consumed our eggs (hers an egg-white spinach omelet, mine two eggs over medium) we discussed what Frank considers a crisis of utmost importance. Breakfast.
Frank, a professor of nutrition at California State University Long Beach and a registered dietitian, says that breakfast is an issue for adults and children alike.
‘‘Breakfast fuels us for the day. It is energy for the brain and gets you started,’’ she said using her fork to cut her huge omelet in half before she’d taken one bite, scooping it into a take-out container to eat later in the day.
‘‘We need 130 grams of carbohydrates a day for normal function. If we don’t refuel at breakfast and break the overnight fast, we challenge the body as the brain searches for fuel. Children recall better and go longer if they have breakfast. It’s no different for adults.’’
She said that it’s a mistake for those hoping to lose weight or control their weight to skip breakfast. Research confirms that people who eat breakfast are the most successful at weight control.
‘‘Breakfast is the first opportunity to eat healthy, and will be healthy if it is not excessive in calories, fat, sugar or salt,’’ explained Frank, who oversees the nationally accredited dietetic internship program at the university.
‘‘We need about 40 nutrients each day as our body does not make these. These include protein (animal or vegetable protein with specific amino acids), carbohydrate (starch and sugar), vitamins, minerals and water.’’
As for calories, she says that one quarter of the day’s calorie intake should be at breakfast. So if you are eating 2,000 calories per day, which is the average for a 10 year-old child, or 3,000 calories for an active teen, or 1,600 for a struggling always-hungry food editor, you can do the math. Frank thinks that breakfast can be repackaged with appealing new twists. New approaches that can provide nutrient-rich food that can cook overnight in a slow cooker, or be assembled for on-the-go consumption, in the car if need be. Planning is crucial because there is so little time in the morning. Here are some suggestions:
Eat good ’ole oatmeal
‘‘Oatmeal is like a pizza but at breakfast — you can choose the toppings you like,’’ she said. Nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruit or canned fruit — chunky applesauce or yogurt. Some might even like a little dab of peanut butter and strawberry fruit spread. She says that you can put out several toppings to create an ‘‘oatmeal bar’’ and let people choose their favorites.
‘‘It’s (oatmeal) nutrient dense, especially from the standpoint of the B vitamins,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s loaded with fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
And you can put the simple ingredients together in the slow cooker at night and wake up to hot oatmeal (recipe follows). Even 10 years after the Food and Drug Administration allowed a health claim stating that oatmeal can lower total cholesterol, the bad LDL portion without lowering the good HDL portion, there is no change in the current research findings. In fact, a 2007 study by Andon and Anderson reinforced that oats and oatmeal can also contribute to weight loss.’’
Portion control is important. For active adults, 1 to 1 cups cooked oatmeal, for a 10-year-old child, cup. Or for a teenage boy, 2 cups.
‘‘Some avoid oatmeal because of their negative perception of sweeteners. You can use some fruit to sweeten it, or a little bit of sugar. But I am not opposed to sugar substitutes. Scientific data show that there is no risk.
The negative rumors boil down to urban myths. Why put millions into research and not make use of it? I’d like to get rid of attacks on food that could be helpful.’’
O.J. and milk
According to Frank, orange juice and milk are two of the easiest to serve and most nutrient rich foods you can eat.
‘‘Now we have a choice about orange juice. We can buy juice that has been fortified with omega-three fatty acids or calcium, or get more fiber by buying juice with more pulp.’’
I asked if it was all right to augment orange juice with other juices, maybe a little pomegranate or cranberry juice? Occasionally, she replied. ‘‘You want children to develop a taste for good old orange juice.
‘‘Looking at today’s health conditions, we think low-fat and nonfat milk is best. With these products we’re not reducing the nutrients, just the fat.’’
And speaking of fat, I used a dry piece of wheat toast to sop up the last smidgen of yolk on my plate, and asked her about eggs.
Yes on eggs
‘‘Yes, they are incredible. In food science we compare everything to the egg. It has the highest biological value of anything on earth. Kids love French toast. And hard cooked eggs can be made in advance and refrigerated up to four days; they can be part of a great portable breakfast. Scrambled eggs are fast and easy and you can use just the egg whites or do two eggs and use just one yolk. And you can make them into a sandwich. The American Heart Association recommends four eggs per week.’’ That’s four whole eggs per week. Eat as many egg whites as your little heart desires.
"It’s nice to sit down at the table and have breakfast, but for many families that isn’t realistic,’’ she said. ‘‘Portable breakfasts can begin (with preparation) at home, rather than the drive-through window.
‘‘It could be an oatmeal bar with fruit, or a rice cracker with a small amount of peanut butter. Or put some nutrient-rich low-sugar cereal in zipper-style bags.
‘‘Plan, plan, plan. It doesn’t have to be a difficult deal. The overall mission is to have breakfast, boost your potential and think better.’’
Here are some recipes for healthful breakfasts:
Nancy Berkoff, R.D., says that this Pho recipe is from the Vegetarian Journal (www.vrg.org). If readers would like to make traditional pho, they can purchase beef shin bones (and if they are near an Asian butcher shop, beef tendon) and simmer it in the broth. Chicken and chicken bones may be used in the broth, as well.