The importance of a nutritious breakfast

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Capture 2Breakfast is an important meal of the day. It is generally recommended by several dietary guidelines that 15 to 25 per cent of recommended daily requirement for nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and energy should come from breakfast.

In addition, the amount and type of fats as well as sugar and sodium should be in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization.

Breakfast should be based on starchy foods such as brown bread or whole grain porridge, which should be combined with a hot beverage such as tea with milk or a portion of milk or other source of protein. Furthermore, it is important to also add a variety of fruits or some vegetables because these are rich sources of different vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and A, folic acid, potassium, and fibre. In addition, to help get more good fats, it is recommended to add some spread with Omega 3 and 6 fats and fat soluble vitamins such as margarine.

Therefore, a good breakfast will deliver required nutrients to start the day such as carbohydrates, good fats (Omega 3 and 6), proteins, water soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals. The food choices for breakfast will depend on what is locally available and accessible.

Examples of a good breakfast for Kenyan children could contain local staple foods like sweet potatoes, boiled cassava, boiled arrow root, whole grain chapatti, legumes and nuts, whole grain porridge with some margarine, a fried or boiled egg, whole meal bread spread with margarine, milk (cow, camel, goat, soya) yoghurt, a cup of tea with milk and seasonal fruits.

Children may be vulnerable to the nutritional effects of breakfast on brain activity and associated cognitive outcomes as they have a higher brain glucose metabolism compared with adults. The higher metabolic turnover of children, their rapid growth rates and the importance of their cognitive function for academic achievement underlie the need for optimal nutrition including breakfast intake.

Most studies on breakfast consumption suggest breakfast to be positively associated with learning in children in terms of behavior, cognitive, and school performance. It is generally assumed that the beneficial effects of eating breakfast on cognitive performance are expected to be short term and specific to the morning on which breakfast is eaten and to selective cognitive functions.

However, several studies have shown the benefit of habitual or regular breakfast (increased frequency more than 5 days/week) consumption on academic performance. At the same time, some evidence suggests that breakfast quality and not just frequency, in terms of providing a greater variety of food groups three to four and adequate energy more than 20-25 per cent of the estimated energy needs, was positively related to school performance (33).

A study by Cardiff University found a significant link between eating breakfast and performing above average on teacher assessment scores. The children who ate a healthy morning meal such as cereal, bread, dairy or fruit were up to twice as likely to achieve better than average grades compared to those who had none and compared to those who snacked on junk foods.

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