27 March 2012

PCRM reveals the five worst school breakfasts

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gets your metabolism running and provides you with the fuel your body has not had since the previous night’s dinner. Because of this, eating a healthy and nutrient-rich breakfast is vital.

Children are some of the most active members of society because they are not only playing sports and outside on the playground on a regular basis, but also attending school and developing their brains in the process. In addition, the rest of their bodies are growing and forming into what they will have for the rest of their lives.

Therefore, breakfast is even more important for children and because so many of them eat breakfast while at school, the foods they are served in the cafeteria are their only sources of nutrition in the morning. With that in mind, one would think the nation’s schools would be dedicated to providing their students with the best quality meals possible.

However, according to a report done by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, many schools are not satisfying these needs. They are serving breakfasts laden with cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, more than what is recommended.

 “I was really disgusted by what I saw,” said PCRM Nutrition Program Manager Jill Eckart. “I expected to see a fair amount of processed meat, eggs and other high cholesterol foods, but I guess I expected to see more healthy options.”

Conducting research on the five worst breakfasts served by schools in the United States, PCRM found that 93 percent of surveyed school districts regularly served breakfasts featuring processed meats, a food that can increase the risk for some types of cancer and diabetes.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines, some breakfasts on the list contained more cholesterol, calories from fat or sodium than a child should be eating for breakfast. The fact that schools were serving these items more than once a week was another surprise for Eckart.

“Seeing speciality items that you think would be reserved for weekend goods were being served every single day,” Eckart added.

The most lethal item on the list was the Ham, Egg and Cheese Biscuit, coming in at 428 calories, 49 percent coming from fat, 115 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,792 milligrams of sodium, which is more than some children should consume in one day, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It has more calories, fat and saturated fat than a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. More than half the surveyed districts offer this heart-stopping entree to their children for breakfast.

Second on the list are Cheesy Scrambled Eggs, which have 241 calories, 63 coming from fat, 391 milligrams of cholesterol and 408 milligrams of sodium. According to the IOM, the concoction contains more than six times the recommended maximum amount of cholesterol for a school breakfast, which explains why one in five teens has an abnormal cholesterol level, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The third-place Sausage, Egg and Cheese Whole-Grain Sandwich, while featuring the buzz word “whole-grain,” contains more sodium than Burger King’s BK Breakfast Muffin Sandwich with sausage, egg and cheese.

Maple-Flavored Pork Pancake Wraps took the fourth place spot, with 210 calories, 10 grams of fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and the infamous Glazed Raised Donut finished off the list, with more than half of its 345 calories coming from fat, and adding 13 grams of sugar and 19 grams of fat.

All five items failed to meet the guideline set by the IOM in 2009 requiring that breakfasts should not exceed 25 to 35 percent of calories from fat and three out of the five items failed to meet the standard requiring less than 65 milligrams of cholesterol per breakfast.

While this year’s study was formulated differently than past studies in that it did not list the specific districts, Eckart said it is a great resource for parents and administrators.

“This is a helpful report for parents and administrators who have no idea what their school is serving and did not even know what a pancake wrap meant on their menu,” Eckart said. “We did research and it almost always contains pork or sausage.”

Twelve point five million American children and adolescents are obese. Since 12 million students are served by the National School Breakfast Program daily, a program that while serving some nutritious meals for breakfast, also provides meals with more cholesterol, calories from fat and sodium than is needed, it’s no wonder children are having a harder time than ever maintaining their youthful energy.

Canadian researchers have found that breakfasts high in fat, sodium and sugar can lead to poor performance in school. Yet, this can be combatted with high-quality, low-fat breakfasts with fruits and vegetables, which can conversely improve academic performance.

 “Schools have a lot to deal with, but their breakfast and lunch programs shouldn’t be at the bottom of their task list,” Eckart said. “We need to do more to promote healthy, cholesterol, dairy, and processed meat-free options and get healthful food in front of children. We are doing them a disservice by not trusting they will choose healthful options.”

Samantha Wood | @bostonu14 | Blog
Boston, MA Samantha is a journalism student at Boston University who hopes to pursue a career in the health magazine field. She is interested in both nutrition and cooking, especially vegan cooking. She became a vegan while in college and has remained that way ever since. She created a blog to document her efforts and it has become a collection of vegan recipes, restaurants and nutrition information. Samantha hopes to develop her photography skills as well so she can take appetizing photos of all her recipes. She loves chocolate (the vegan kind of course) and dogs, as well as California, where she hopes to live someday.

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