Breakfast is important for children and teenagers and their learning
- but are all those dairy products really necessary?
Eating breakfast has a positive effect on cognitive skills such as memory and learning in children and teenagers, according to an article about Danes and their breakfast habits that is published in Nutrients. However, many children are delivered in their institutions early in the morning, in some cases without even having had a chance to eat breakfast. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration therefore recommends offering these children the chance of eating breakfast in their institutions. It seems that symptoms such as poor concentration, hyperactivity, and apathy, which tend to be viewed as psychological problems, are often the result of not eating breakfast, having low blood sugar levels, and lacking essential vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. In the following, you can read more about the value of eating a healthy breakfast, while you can find out more about the low-fat dairy products that actually increase your risk of unstable blood sugar and overweight.
It can be rather stressful to get up early in the morning, wake up the kids, serve them a solid breakfast, prepare their lunches, pack their gym clothes, and manage all the routines that are necessary before sending them off to kindergarten or school. A study from 2014 showed that 20 percent of Danish 11 year-old children do not eat breakfast every day. This figure goes up, as they grow older. Among 15 year-old teenagers, 34 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys don’t eat breakfast. According to a large national dietary survey, young people aged 18-24 years have the most irregular breakfast habits. Interestingly, the regularity of people’s breakfast habits increases with increasing educational level. Also, those who do not eat breakfast on a daily basis consume more empty calories, fat, and sugar in the course of the day than those who do eat breakfast.
It seems that especially families with low educational level and low income tend to skip breakfast, which increases the risk that their children perform worse in school and have greater difficulty with obtaining a higher education and better income. In other words, it becomes increasingly difficult for these children to break free from their social heritage. The question is why is it so important for children and teenagers in particular to eat breakfast?
The brain depends on stable blood sugar levels – all day
After sleeping a whole night, the stomach is empty and needs refueling with energy-providing carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates from sources such as corn, bread, potatoes, rice, and fruit are broken down into glucose that delivers a constant energy supply to the brain. This is particularly important in situations where we have to concentrate and learn new things. Because the bloodstream can only contain a limited amount of glucose, and we are only able to store a certain amount of glucose in the body, it is important to utilize this vital fuel source in an optimal way. The more refined carbohydrates we consume (e.g. refined sugar, white flour etc.), the faster the glucose enters the blood. This gives the brain a kick, but it doesn’t take long for the blood sugar levels to plummet. This makes you tired and unfocused, and the brain yearns for more fast energy. The best way to avoid this is by eating a breakfast that stabilizes your blood sugar. That way, your brain is sure to get the required amount of energy for the next four to five hours, possibly helped by a small snack before lunch.
It is best to consume whole-grain foods such as oatmeal and rye bread, both of which have a low glycemic index and therefore ensure slow delivery of carbohydrates to the bloodstream. Avoid breakfast cereals such as Frosties, Nesquick, and Multi Cheerios that contain a lot of sugar and have a high glycemic index. Many types of foods contain a lot of concealed sugar, so make sure to study the food label carefully. Also, consider the fact that sugar has many different names, so don’t be fooled. People with sensitive blood sugar are advised to include more protein in their breakfast meal, for instance by eating eggs that are good for satiety.
Your breakfast should make a difference
Research has shown that breakfast can have a direct impact on our ability to concentrate, learn, remember, and solve problems. A British study of children aged 6-16 years demonstrated that those who had consumed breakfast performed better in various tests. However, the effect of eating breakfast also hinges on how well-nourished the children are to begin with. It is therefore important that the other meals of the day are healthy, as well.
Below, you can see different suggestions for a healthy breakfast.
Did you know that your brain only burns sugar (glucose), whereas your muscles and other tissues are able to use sugar, fat, and protein?
Danes should lower their sugar intake drastically
As mentioned, many breakfast cereals contains far too much sugar, and many children get a lot of sugar from candy, soft drinks, juice, chocolate milk, energy beverages, marmalade, Nutella, Kinder Milk Slices, and other foods that have concealed sugar.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), the intake of refined sugar in children and adults should represent no more than 10 percent of the total daily calorie consumption. Remember, there are also good calorie-free alternatives such as Sweet Stevia and Sukrin, and cane sugar, honey, and dried fruit. But what makes refined sugar so unhealthy, and what can happen if you consume too much?
Too much sugar depletes your vitamin and mineral stores
The process of refining sugar from sugar beets causes the loss of around 40 important nutrients. White sugar therefore only contains empty calories. The human energy turnover involves a number of enzyme processes that require vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and chromium, which means that the body has to borrow these nutrients from different tissues in the body. Because of this, the nervous system and immune system may become temporarily deficient in vital nutrients. Our bones constitute the main “mineral bank”, which means that eating too much sugar may eventually result in fragile bones, and this may not be noticeable before it is too late to do something about the problem.
Low-fat dairy products make children overweight
Most Danes eat some sort of dairy product for breakfast. It is contradictory that the official diet guidelines and weight loss plans including those aimed at children recommend skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and other low-fat dairy products that are full of growth-enhancing proteins and hormones. Children who regularly drink skimmed milk are 57 percent more likely to become overweight or obese in their childhood compared with children, who consume normal whole milk.
This was seen in a large, American study (ECLS), where researchers collected data about diet and development in children and teenagers.
The reason why low-fat dairy products such as skimmed milk and low-fat cheese are more fattening is that they contain more protein. Here, the milk protein called casein and the growth hormone, IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1), are worth paying attention to. IGF-1 is known to affect blood sugar levels and to increase the number of cells that turn into fat cells. It also seems that IGF-1 causes existing fat cells to increase in size.
Although protein normally has a stabilizing effect on the blood sugar and weight, this is not the case with milk protein. In fact, milk protein is naturally designed to help a calf reach a weight of 300 kilos in one year.
Most people are unaware that milk fat contains a fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) that helps deliver fat to the energy turnover in muscle cells, to help build muscle mass, and to prevent the uptake of fat in fat cells. In order to ensure optimal amounts of CLA in butter, cream and whole milk, cows must graze on pastures in order for their gut flora to convert LA (linoleic acid) to CLA. There is absolutely no reason to choose low-fat dairy products, and you are also better off by choosing organic brands.
The total consumption of dairy products has decreased dramatically
The consumption of milk has decreased a little, while the consumption of fermented dairy products, cheese, skyr, chocolate milk, and caffé latte has increased drastically in the past decades. Many researchers believe that the increased consumption of dairy products may explain the surge in overweight, which affects more and more children.
Can breakfast be healthy if it has no dairy products?
Yes, and if your child is lactose intolerant or allergic to other dairy products, there are alternatives such as oat drink or almond drink. Asian children hardly ever consume dairy products because they are lactose intolerant. The majority of children and teenagers around the world do not consume dairy products, yet they manage to get enough calcium and magnesium from other sources to keep their bones healthy. If you want to be on the safe side, you can give your child a supplement with vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium. It is important not just to have your focus on calcium, because vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium, while magnesium makes sure that the calcium is properly embedded in the bone tissue.
Create the right breakfast setting
It is your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your child eats breakfast. Therefore, you should set a good example by eating breakfast yourself. Eating meals together is associated with many different emotions, so it is also important to create the right atmosphere around the table and to allow enough time for each family member to consume the food without stress.
Three healthy breakfast suggestions
- Eggs or some other protein source together with rye bread and e.g. tomato, cucumber, or another vegetable.
- Oatmeal porridge, millet flake porridge, or another porridge type. Add a little butter or 1-2 tsp. of rapeseed or coconut oil. You can add chopped almonds, nuts, or kernels.
- Sugar-free muesli or oatmeal with whole milk, oat drink, or almond drink.
You can sweeten your porridge, muesli, or oatmeal with honey, raisins, dates, berries, or fruit.
Accompany your breakfast with small glass of juice, or a smoothie with banana, berries, or some other fresh fruits.
Sisse Fagt el al. Breakfast in Denmark. Prevalence of Consumption, Intake of Foods, Nutrients and Dietary Quality. A study from The International Breakfast Research Initiative. Nutrients 2018 10 (8) 1085, doi;103390/nu10081085
Sharf RJ et al. Longitudinal evaluation of milk type consumes and weight status in preschoolers. Arch Dis Child 2013
Stephen Adams: Drinking Skim Milk May Be Making Toddlers Fat. The Telegraph. 2013.
Frede Bräuner. Kost adfærd indlæringsevne. Klim 2002
Ane Bodil Søgaard, Karen Østergaard og Troels V. Østergaard: Mælk og sundhed. Books on Demand. www.nomilk.dk
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