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Patch Takes It Off: Four Weeks Gone

This week, our three pounds lighter hero gets lost in oatmeal. This is a good thing.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Just thinking about this most important daily repast sets my heart alight: creamy scrambled eggs, spicy sausage, crisp bacon strips, scrumptious scrapple, buttery waffles drenched in maple syrup, schmeared bagels and lox, mmm...

Sorry, I'm getting lost in my rise-and-shine reverie. But you get my point: Breakfast rocks. Problem is, most of my early-morning faves, if eaten regularly, are likely to expedite one's launch to the afterlife.

While there is nothing wrong with indulging in, say, a dish of cholesterol-laden Eggs Benedict now and then--or even the occasional bellybusting fast-food breakfast sandwich--far too many people make fatty, salty eyeopeners part of their daily morning routine. 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this creates a problem of epidemic proportions: 64.5 percent of American adults over age 20 are overweight.

There is no denying it:  making a habit of the traditional breakfast does not rock.

I knew that going into the Patch Takes It Off challenge. As I thought about doing this initially, I thought about breakfast. And I thought about my dad.

My father died nearly eight years ago, just after his 60th birthday. The official cause of Dad's death was a massive stroke. Before this, he'd suffered two heart attacks and several smaller strokes that left him physically compromised. At the root of these maladies was Type 2 diabetes brought on by bad eating habits.

Now, my dad was anything but stupid. He knew that by changing his diet, he could regain at least a measure of his good health and vitality. And he did try to mend his ways, he really did. But time and again, when his doting daughter would suggest gently that he try baked or broiled fish rather than his famous (and admittedly delicious) fried rockfish, he would throw a tantrum worthy of a 5-year-old. I don't fault him for it; it's only human nature to want what tastes good, and too many of us are conditioned from childhood to crave unhealthy foods. But the fact remains whether or not we like it: Succumbing to those cravings can be, and often is, ultimately deadly.

So, indulge this well-meaning nag: Start your day with a healthy meal. It doesn't have to be a trial. From whole-grain breads to fresh fruits to low-fat yogurts and cheeses, lots of smart, delicious and satisfying breakfast alternatives are available. My favorite, however--and the reason I knew this challenge could be successful me me--is oatmeal.

Oats rock. I have lost 22 pounds so far in the PTIO effort; three in the past week! Much of the credit goes to centering my breakfast most every day around whole-grain oats. They're tasty, filling, überhealthy and a wonderful energy source.

The American Dietetic Association says a great example of a healthy breakfast has these components: whole grains, low-fat protein or dairy sources and fruit. The humble bowl of oatmeal certainly meets that criteria, and it's easy to prepare:

Basic Healthy Oat 'n Fruit Meal

Boil one cup of water, reduce heat to low, add 1/2 cup of whole oats (not quick oats) and stir constantly. (Alternately, use a mixture of 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice. Yum!) After five minutes, turn off the stove, cover the pot and let sit for a minute or two. Spoon the hot oats into a bowl, add 1/2 cup of nonfat milk and some of your favorite fruit, and you're ready to go.

In a hurry? Living in a heat wave? Here's a variation: Have one cup of whole-grain Cheerios with fruit (antioxidant-rich blueberries and potassium-filled bananas are super choices) and four ounces of skim milk.

It's important to confine oneself to whole oats if at all possible. Quick oats are quite seductive; you can prepare them in one minute rather than five, and they do have real nutritive value. But whole grains are superior to those that, like quick oats, have been refined or processed. These partial grains have their bran and germ removed, so they offer less fiber than do their unrefined bretheren. Processed grains are enriched with certain nutrients, but whole grains are brimming with complex carbohydrates, selenium, potassium, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals. Whole-grain cereals and breads will keep you healthier than refined grains can.

Oats are no exception: The pure variety, which includes the wonderful oat bran and oat germ, is a dense, nutritious food that provides long-lasting energy that will give you more strength and endurance, making you more productive at work, school or play. And there are lots more benefits that come from having a healthy breakfast featuring oatmeal or similarly prepared whole-grain goodies such as quinoa and millet.

Writer Jean Carper at StopAgingNow.com noted that women and men who ate more whole grains consistently gained less weight over an eight- to 12-year period in studies conducted at Harvard University.

Carper presented these fun facts too:

Whole grains decrease hunger by making you feel full and by curbing blood sugar spikes that trigger appetite.

Women who ate more than 4 1/2 daily servings of whole grains were 1/3 less apt to develop colon cancer than those who ate less than 1 1/2 servings a day, according to a 2005 Swedish study.

People who eat the most whole grains, especially high-fiber cereals, are 20 percent to 30 percent less likely to develop insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, according to research from Tufts, Harvard and the University of Minnesota.

Harvard investigators found that men who ate a bowl of whole-grain cereal every day cut their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by 20 percent.

In another Harvard study, eating high-bran whole grains three times a day cut the risk of heart disease nearly 30 percent. Researchers declared the bran in cereals particularly potent.

Eating a whole-grain oat cereal, such as oatmeal, every day for three months enabled 73 percent of those with high blood pressure to reduce or eliminate their need for medication, University of Minnesota investigators reported.

Older women in Iowa who ate whole grains containing 4.7 grams of fiber daily were 17 percent less likely to die of any cause in a 10-year period than were women who ate refined grains, says a University of Minnesota study.

In case you're wondering, one one-cup serving of oatmeal or Cheerios contains four grams of fiber, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Just two servings of whole-grain oats per day cuts your chance of checking out early. And imagine what good you can do by also enjoying whole-grain options like unrefined brown rice, whole-grain bread or bagels, or whole-grain pasta during snacks, lunch and dinner. 

In short, if you're trying to lose weight, try whole-grain oats. I think it's working for me. It may be just the thing for you as well.

Next week, I will dance off the pounds. (I put it off a week because I'm trying to get some Patchers to come dance with me.)

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