Everybody knows you need to eat a good breakfast, but currently, in one-half of American families, at least one person regularly skips this meal.

If you're a "statistic" - a person who regularly misses breakfast - and you're interested in decreasing stress, increasing energy and maybe even losing weight, keep reading.Jane Brody, author of the "Good Food Book," has some pretty firm things to say about breakfast, which she features as the "most important meal of the day."

Speaking to people who are into a pattern of "too-late for-breakfast, grab-something-for-lunch, eat-a-big-dinner, and nibble-non-stop-until-bedtime," Brody says: People like this "starve their bodies when they most need fuel and stuff them when they'll be doing nothing more strenuous than flipping the TV dial or the pages of a book."

"When you think about it," she continues "the pattern makes no biological sense. Why should an organism be given fuel just before it's going to sleep and no fuel when it needs peak energy? That would be like trying to drive your car from New York to Washington, D.C., on an empty tank of gas and then filling the tank once you get there."

So what's in an ideal breakfast? According to Brody, it should contain about a third of your day's protein needs; fruit or juice; a complex carbohydrate, rich in original nutrients; and a beverage, which will aid in digesting the other foods.

Judith Wurtman, author of "Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food," concurs with this breakfast plan. Wurtman, who cites extensive studies identifying protein as the nutrient the body uses almost immediately to produce the brain's "alertness chemicals" (the neurotrans-mitters dopamine and norepine-phrine), stresses the importance of eating protein at breakfast. An occasional egg, low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or a slice of wheat toast topped with low-fat cheese will keep your brain energy at a pace with your body during the first part of the day, she reports.

Wurtman also cautions against eating a breakfast high in fat because blood is diverted from the brain to the stomach to help digest the fat, with resulting in mental sluggishness: "During the long, drawn-out digestive process that follows a high-fat meal, relatively more blood is diverted to the stomach and intestines and away from the brain. Mental processes are slowed, the mind is dulled, the result is sloppy thinking . . . or no thinking at all, as lethargy and even drowsiness set in."

So what benefits occur when you do take time to eat a good breakfast? Consider these possibilities:

- You may lose unwanted pounds. When you skip breakfast, skimp on lunch, and stuff at dinner, studies show that you'll likely gain weight, says Brody. On the other hand, moving a substantial amount of your calories to breakfast may help you lose weight.

Wurtman adds that a good breakfast is "protective," preventing you "from being so famished by lunchtime that your restraint vanishes and you overeat - and suffer the mind-numbing consequences afterward."

- You'll perform at a higher physical and mental level. Studies indicate that benefits to breakfast eaters, when compared to breakfast skippers, include a faster reaction time, higher productivity during the later morning hours, and less muscle fatigue, emphasizes Brody.

- You'll be more pleasant. Breakfast eaters are likely to be less irritable, less impatient and less likely to fly off the handle than breakfast skippers, she says.

- Your body will function more efficiently. Emphasizes Wurtman: "Eating at a time when your body is switching from the lower energy expenditures, lower temperatures and lower hormone production of the nighttime hours into its more active daytime mode helps make these transitions occur more smoothly and efficiently - and with better results for you."

So, now that you've got breakfast down pat - on to lunch. Wurtman recommends the power lunch to go with the power breakfast. Possibilities are high that you'll respond like a tiger - or almost - she says, if you eat a lunch with these characteristics: high in protein; both low in fat and relatively low in calories; and alcohol-free.

How much protein do you need? Have between 3 and 5 ounces of meat, poultry, seafood, or fish; or approximately 1 cup of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese; or 2 ounces of low-fat cheese; or two eggs (limit to no more than three or four "visible" eggs per week because of cholesterol content).

Eating significant protein at lunch will maintain your mental sharpness, reports Wurtman, "because the flood of amino acids supplied by high-protein foods prevents your brain from manufacturing serotonin, the calming chemical. This means that you are less likely to experience a slowed down, more passive and relaxed state of mind that occurs when serotonin is produced."

- Dr. Larsen is a therapist practicing in Salt Lake City.