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“Eat your vegetables” is oft-repeated advice at the dinner table, but how many times do you hear it at breakfast? While vegetables are not typically at the forefront of Americans’ minds when it comes to the first meal of the day, it can be an ideal opportunity to improve your health and start the day off right.

Studies have linked breakfast consumption to lower risk of chronic diseases, better weight management and improved mental performance. However, research supports that it’s not just any breakfast that yields these rewards – the greatest benefits come with a breakfast packed with nutritious, high-fiber foods, which may include whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits – and vegetables.

Eating vegetables offers vital nutrients that lower the risk of developing numerous ailments, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other diseases of aging. And we need to add more vegetables to our daily diets.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that American adults consume only 1.6 daily servings of vegetables – well below the recommended intake set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Breakfast might be the ideal time to introduce our daily vegetables.

BEYOND BORDERS

In many countries, vegetables and plant-based whole foods are staples of the morning meal. The Japanese often start their day with miso soup, rice, green tea, seaweed, and pickled vegetables, and in South India and Sri Lanka, a typical breakfast might be upma, a hot breakfast porridge combined with seasonings and vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes and peas.

Many countries have lower levels of chronic diseases than we do in the U.S., which may be a result of the eating habits predominant in these cultures. Applying the plant-based culinary habits of these ethnicities to the American breakfast plate may help us live longer and healthier lives.

LOTS OF CHOICES

Chef and registered dietitian Cheryl Forberg believes breakfast can set the stage for healthy eating during the day.

“If we skip breakfast and maybe even push back lunch, we lose sight of our body’s natural hunger cues. By the time we do eat, we’re extra hungry and it’s easy to eat too much, too fast, and choose the wrong things,” Forberg said, and this can result in unhealthy blood sugar levels, diabetes and weight gain.

One reason we don’t get enough vegetables is that many of us consider them merely a side dish to dinner. Incorporating vegetables at breakfast is a delicious way to boost nutrition and improve health.

“Breakfast doesn’t always have to be ‘breakfast foods’; you can mix carrots and rutabaga into warm quinoa, or enjoy a baked potato with broccoli and leeks,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, a Cleveland-based registered dietitian. To make vegetable consumption in the morning easier, try slicing up fresh vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, radishes, tomatoes, and avocado, the night before and storing them in an airtight container.