With so much contradictory advice and even conspiracy theories on the interwebs, no wonder we’re confused. Let’s find a balanced guide to brekkie
With all the diet fads and ‘eat once a day’ theories doing the rounds, we must at least wonder whether tucking into our morning oats is actually doing us any good, no matter what we’ve been taught about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. So let us state this at the outset – Yes! It is very important to eat your breakfast, no matter what your age.
Oxford University researcher in the Dept. of Experimental Psychology (phew!) Charles Spence published an article In the Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science this month questioning Breakfast: The most important meal of the day? And his conclusion – following a analysis of comprehensive health literature was, in a nutshell, yes, indeedy.
Let’s give you the highlights:
Timing is everything: Nutritionist Adelle Davis famously said, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” The latest evidence shows we should all be aiming to consume around 15–25% of our daily energy intake at breakfast (i.e., 300–500 kilojoules for women and 375–625 for men), so our bodies can burn it throughout the day. Yet largescale North American surveys suggest that about 18–25% of adults and as many as 36% of adolescents skip this ‘most important’ meal.
Make sure you feed your kids: Even if you don’t follow research, we all know what happens to children who go to school with empty stomachs – they are lethargic, struggle to learn and perform poorly, which is why there is so much research on this area and consequent emphasis on providing children with healthy nutrition either from home or at school.
Skipping breakfast can have serious health consequences: A 2013 study documented a 27% increase in coronary heart disease among North American men who regularly failed to eat a meal at the start of the day. Though eating high-fat breakfasts too often has recently been demonstrated to increase the risk of atherosclerosis.
Need anymore persuasion? Not eating breakfast can make you gain weight, according to clinical dietitian Dr. Chirsty Tangney, an expert on the effects of diet and nutrition on heart health, “Studies have found that although people who skip breakfast eat slightly fewer kilojoules during the day, they tend to have higher body mass index, or BMI”, she says.
Makes sense. You’ve basically been fasting through the night and your metabolism is at an all-time low when you wake up. As you get up and start moving around, your body needs fuel. Skipping breakfast means blood sugar and energy levels go haywire, and, even worse, your body learns not to expect food in the morning and slows down your metabolism even more!
Of course, it’s not only that you should eat breakfast, but what you eat, that makes a difference…
No, that report from Japan that suggested eating ice-cream on waking-up helps make people smarter (at least temporarily), is, unfortunately, questionable as it compared brain activity in those who ate ice-cream with those who ate nothing, making it impossible to say for sure whether it was the act of eating ice-cream specifically or just eating ‘anything’ at all, that led to reported effects.
The conspiracy theorists believe companies that make breakfast cereals are responsible for the ‘pro-breakfast’ message. What you should be aware of is what you’re giving junior (and yourself!) for breakfast. Some alarming stats from the UK cited by Spence: British children under ten years of age consume more than 50% of the recommended daily allowance of sugar at breakfast in the form of sugary cereals, drinks, and spreads. And many parents were unsure as to what makes up a healthy breakfast for their children.
It’s important to look at the cereal box and check what’s in it, especially the sugar content, preservatives, colourants and nutritional content. Instead of colourful ‘sugar bombs’ disguised as breakfast cereal, health experts urge us to eat a substantial, well-balanced breakfast that releases its energy slowly over the course of the morning to help us stay energetic and alert.
If you’re not ready to breakfast at 7am, you can eat a bit later, but try to do it before 10am, to maximise the benefits.
Ready to tuck in?
What does a healthy breakfast look like?
- It’s been suggested that when you look at your breakfast, it should consist of three parts. If you imagine a line down the middle of your plate – one half should contain veggies, while the other half should be split into two equal parts of protein and slow-release carbohydrates. Add a fruit and some good fats to help stop blood sugar fluctuations and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Eating protein in the morning is essential for regulating blood sugar. A boiled or poached egg, a piece of cheese, some yoghurt and a handful nuts or seeds will set you up for the day. Spence mentions that studies from Finland suggest that eggs can also enhance cognitive performance in middle-aged men (and we’re sure women and children too).
- We all need at least two servings of fruit daily, so why not have one at breakfast? Fresh fruit is great, but as the seasons change, options are limited, so frozen fruit is a good idea, particularly if you’re partial to smoothies. Why not combine your yoghurt, fruit and seeds into one health-full drink?
- Wholegrain bread or cereal provides the energy your body needs. Pair your toast with some healthy fats like avocado or some veggies like mushrooms or spinach and you’ve included one of your required veggie servings for the day as well.
- Love peanut butter? Unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter is just as tasty as the other, or why not try other nut butter spreads such as almond or cashew for a tasty morning treat.
- Ever made wheat-free muffins? They’re basically scrambled eggs filled with whatever takes your fancy and baked in the oven. Great eaten hot or cold.
- This snippet from Spence was particularly interesting (if difficult to swallow): our cortisol levels are highest in the morning, possibly to give us our get-up-and-go. Unfortunately, caffeinated coffee also stimulates cortisol release, so they recommend only having your first cuppa java after 9am. Gulp.
- Variety definitely IS the spice of life when it comes to breakfast…
- Don’t bore yourself with the same boiled egg every morning. Try poached eggs on a bed of spinach with mushrooms today, an omelette with tomato and feta tomorrow and a boiled egg on a slice of wholegrain toast with avocado the third. Mix these up with a bowl of wholegrain cereal, toast with nutty butter and a delicious smoothie and you’ll never miss breakfast again!
- Making the effort to get up just ten minutes earlier so that you can actually sit down and eat is also worth it – rushing around while you eat does your digestive system no favours.
And don’t forget to drink water. If you can, start the day with a glass of warm water with lemon to help flush your digestive system and rehydrate your body. It’s magic!
Lastly, if you have any specific health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., it’s always a good idea to chat to your doctor or a dietician about just the right diet for you.