Sumita Gupta, 35, thought she had a healthy lifestyle. She jogged every evening, watched what she ate, and counted the calories. Yet her BMI (body mass index, which is the ratio of weight to height) hovered over 25; she continued to be borderline overweight. It took the Gurgaon-based HR manager and mother of a six-year-old nearly two years to figure out that the problem lay in her skipping breakfast.

“I don’t think I had had breakfast since the day I left school. Since I’ve always taken care to eat right throughout the day, I thought that was fine. Some time ago, I came across an article on how long food gaps stimulate the body’s insulin response, which then increases fat storage. I realized that all my calorie-consciousness at lunch or dinner did not make much sense if I was not having breakfast," Gupta says. That was about six months ago. The busy executive now makes it a point to eat a healthy meal in the mornings and her BMI ratio has already dipped below 25.

Benefits of breakfast

Healthy start: The Breakfast Burger at Eggspectation in New Delhi combines the goodness of eggs and vegetables like mushrooms, lettuce and tomatoes. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

One way to stimulate BMR is to have a hearty breakfast. “It’s like filling up your car with petrol. You want to tank up before you set off on a long drive, not after. Breakfast is the refuelling your body needs after going without food for 8-10 hours. You need it to kick-start your metabolism," explains Suman Agarwal, founder of Selfcare, a Mumbai-based organization that works in the field of promoting healthy nutrition.

“People who eat proper breakfast also maintain cholesterol and triglyceride levels better. And for children it’s a must. The human brain needs constant supply of energy. Research has shown that children who eat a healthy breakfast are more active and alert in school," Samaddar adds.

Ideally, a proper breakfast should provide between one-fourth and one-third of the daily requirement of calories and proteins. “Breakfast should provide not only the macronutrients, that is carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins, but also micronutrients. And fibres too. Complex carbohydrates provide a steady supply of glucose to the brain over a certain period of time rather than just peaks and lows that simple carbohydrates like sugar give," says Samaddar. Cereals such as oats, wheat, etc., are a good source of complex carbohydrates while milk is the best source of calcium.

Contrary to perception, traditional Indian breakfasts are not loaded with fat. “In fact, a paratha is very healthy. Certainly, that doesn’t mean you douse it in ghee. But if you have two parathas with a glass of lassi or a bowl of dahi, that’s a complete breakfast. Or sambhar-idli. Maharashtrians have a lot of poha. It’s very good too, “ says Samaddar. According to Agarwal, a proper breakfast is about getting the combination right—the right fats, carbohydrates and protein. “Toast and juice is a bad option, it’s carb and carb; toast with milk is good. Poha with tea is bad, because it’s only carb and you get very little milk in tea, poha with lassi is the right combo. Then egg and toast is a super option," adds Agarwal.

Time travails

Experts and laymen concur that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet it is the most commonly skipped meal, and most often because of lack of time.

“Not bothering with breakfast is the easiest way to save time on a busy morning," says Sohini Dasgupta, a teacher at a Kolkata school who has a preschooler daughter. She frequently skips breakfast when her husband is travelling on work. “If my husband is not in town, it all falls on me—getting my daughter ready for school, packing her and my lunch, dropping her off at playschool, and then the long commute to my school. On days like those who has the time to prepare a proper breakfast? At best, I may grab a banana or apple on my way out," says the 32-year-old. “A proper breakfast usually means roti-sabzi or parathas, milk and cornflakes— definitely not things you can have when rushing about preparing for work," says Siddharth Pal, an executive with a telecom multinational company in Gurgaon who lives in Delhi and drives about 30km to office every day.

With a bit of planning and creative thinking, a balanced breakfast need not be a time-consuming chore: Chop the vegetables the night before, knead the dough or make the sauce in advance, so all you need to do is put them together in the morning and finish off on the stove or put in the oven. Also, avoid messy food that needs to be eaten at a table, sitting down. Instead of slurping cornflakes, have spoonfuls of porridge, with a handful of nuts thrown in, as you go about packing the lunch. Try rolls and wraps. Or do as Kishi Arora, pastry chef and food consultant, Foodaholics, does to solve the problem of time. She makes a smoothie with seasonal fruits: “It’s one of my favourite breakfasts. It’s healthy and can be made in minutes and keeps me full for a long time." And for those who have long commutes to work, it’s perfect to carry along and sip on the way.