Cancer Institute Calls for Something Radically Different at Breakfast

American Institute for Cancer Research
Thursday, 21 August 2003

"It is time Americans took a radical look at the morning meal," experts announced at the American Institute for Cancer Research's (AICR) International Research Conference last month. To aid the public in a reexamination of what we eat each morning, the Institute issued a new 37-page brochure entitled The New American Plate For Breakfast.

"We tend to eat pastries, or egg and fried meat, or sugary dry, commercial cereals because that is what we have always eaten in the morning. But in a society in which overweight and chronic disease are rampant, it may make sense to reexamine our eating habits," said Melanie Polk, RD, AICR's Director of Nutrition Education.

In fact, a survey published in Prevention Medicine [vol. 30 (5), 2000], shows that 15.1 percent of American adults eat pastry for breakfast, 15.3 percent eat eggs, 17.4 percent eat commercial dry cereals and an equal number, 17.3 percent, have no breakfast at all.

"Why not breakfast pizzas, wraps, burritos and strata that include the plant foods we need to prevent chronic disease and manage our weight? Vegetables, fruit, whole grains and even beans can be blended into delicious meals that will appeal to the palate in the morning," Polk said.

According to the new brochure, breakfast should be regarded as one of three basic meals that supply sufficient energy to maintain us through the day and at the same time supply the minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals needed to reduce risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. To play this dual role in our daily diet, the American breakfast may need to be made over into something radically different.

Brochure Suggests Alternatives

According to the new brochure, the proportions are off in most of the traditional breakfasts Americans choose. That is, they lack an appropriate balance of plant-based foods and lean animal protein. The new brochure offers alternative breakfasts that correspond to the originals in some respects but offer a more healthful balance of ingredients.

1. Pastries

For instance, people in a rush to get out in the morning often grab a donut and coffee and consume them on the way to work. Donuts, Danish and muffins most of the sweetened pastry we eat in the morning provide an excessive amount of refined flour and sugar.

"Pastries eaten alone for breakfast will raise your blood sugar level rapidly and then cause it to plummet. The result is fatigue and hunger before the morning is half over," Polk said.

An alternative breakfast should contain whole grain flour and a small amount of protein to stabilize our energy supply. The new brochure recommends a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, or a whole wheat English muffin spread with apple butter and low-fat string cheese.

2. Eggs and fried meat

Eggs with bacon or sausage and the inevitable hash browns are a second American favorite for breakfast. This hearty classic, often preferred by people with ample time in the morning, is high in animal protein and the saturated fat that comes with it. If prepared on a restaurant griddle, it may also be high in trans fats, which act like saturated fat.

Studies have shown that saturated fat raises cholesterol levels and contributes to the clogging of arteries. Furthermore, such egg and fried meat breakfasts lack the protective phytochemicals found in plant-based meals.

"If eaten day in and day out, this kind of fatty meal can lead to both overweight and chronic disease," Polk commented.

The Institute's new brochure recommends three possible substitutions for the traditional egg and fried meat breakfast: the Confetti Breakfast Burrito, which includes a whole wheat shell, vegetables and egg; an Italian Breakfast Strata, which incorporates layers of whole wheat bread, egg as well as onions, mushrooms and tomato; and a Southwest Vegetable Frittata, which includes eggs, beans, peppers, onions and salsa.

3. Sugared Dry Cereals

A third traditional breakfast is sugar-laden dry cereal with milk. Although a grain and milk combination does provide balance, many commercial cereals have an extraordinary amount of added sugar. This heavy load of added sugar in addition to refined grains burns rapidly and can leave people tired and hungry in a few hours.

"The new brochure suggests that people read the Nutrition Facts label and find a whole-grain cereal that has little or no sugar added. Then add chopped almonds, low-fat milk and sweeten the dish with chopped, seasonal fruit for a well-proportioned breakfast," Polk suggests.

Other alternatives to sugar-coated cereals include oatmeal with fresh sliced apples, walnuts and cinnamon, or a homemade Maple Raisin Granola, soymilk and sliced peaches. In each instance a whole-grain is sweetened with fruit, sprinkled with nuts, and served with low-fat milk or soymilk to provide a delicious and healthy breakfast.

"There is an easy rule of thumb for creating a well-proportioned breakfast. A plate that is covered with 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruit, whole grains, or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein makes a perfect meal at breakfast, lunch, or dinner," Polk said.

Skipping Breakfast Proves Counter Productive

Among the most popular traditional breakfasts is no breakfast at all. Either because of time constraints or the desire to lose weight, at least 17 percent of Americans regularly skip the morning meal.

"Eating a healthy breakfast fuels the muscles for physical activity and improves productivity. It actually increases the rate at which you burn calories. Skipping breakfast will leave you sluggish and will not help control weight," Polk said.

A series of convincing studies have shown that people who skip breakfast take in more calories later in the day than people who eat three evenly spaced meals. Other studies show that breakfast skippers tend to have higher blood cholesterol levels as well.

The new brochure suggests a Strawberry Melon Smoothie, or small, whole wheat, fruit muffin in place of no breakfast. It offers recipes for smoothies that can be whipped up quickly in the morning and healthy muffins that can be baked on the weekend and frozen for use during the week.

"Not eating breakfast misses the grade altogether," the brochure concludes.

Brochure Offered Free to Public

The new breakfast brochure is the latest in AICR's New American Plate series and applies the principles of proportion and portion size to the morning meal. It contains a detailed explanation of how to manage portion sizes at breakfast and a review of the debate on the relation of fat and carbohydrates to weight management.

In addition the brochure contains a list of five imaginative, but simple breakfasts that don't require recipes and 13 recipes for novel, but healthy breakfasts. It contains recipes such as Breakfast Banana Smoothie, Pumpkin-Spice Muffins and a Breakfast Fruit Wrap that takes minutes to prepare and Veggie Pita Pizza, Southwest Vegetable Frittata and Confetti Breakfast Burritos, which are more suitable for weekend breakfasts or brunches.

Visit and click on "New American Plate for Breakfast" to read or order the new brochure online. To get a single free copy delivered to your home, call 1-800-843-8114, ext. 10, Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:30 Eastern Time.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is one of the nation's largest cancer charities, focusing exclusively on the link between diet and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided over $65 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

For more information, or to contact American Institute for Cancer Research, see their website at:

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