Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
We’ve all heard the saying but unfortunately breakfast is usually given the least importance of our three meals, often being something grabbed on the way to work or even skipped all together. Making the effort to have a healthy breakfast is worth it though – people who do are slimmer and healthier.
Research has shown that people who eat breakfast are slimmer than those who skip it, and that people who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off start the day with a healthy breakfast.
This is due to the fact that eating first thing helps to balance blood sugar levels, which in turn helps regulate appetite and energy levels. Eating a substantial breakfast also means you feel less hungry and eat less over the rest of the day.
So what are the best breakfast choices?
The ideal breakfast to keep you feeling full and satisfied and to give you energy that lasts all morning should combine low GI carbohydrates with protein. You also want some healthy fats, fruit and/or vegetables and plenty of water for hydration. Lets look at these individually in more detail.
Provide us with energy and slow-releasing or low GI (see below) carbohydrates provide energy that lasts longer. Wholegrains such as oats provide low GI carbohydrates and are therefore a perfect breakfast choice. Wholegrains also provide fibre, which keeps us feeling full, plus B vitamins for energy production and minerals such as magnesium, selenium and iron.
Breakfast is an opportunity to get in a couple of servings of fruit and possibly veg, and fruit is the healthiest way to add sweetness to your breakfast. Blueberries have been shown to boost learning and memory and are high in vitamin C and antioxidants (great for skin) – I like to include a serving of berries everyday, plus one or two other fruits.
Breakfast foods to avoid
87% of households in the UK eat packaged cereals every single weekday. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are based on high GI, simple carbohydrates with plenty of added sugars. The high GI carbs cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels followed by a crash, involving low energy and sugar cravings. This type of breakfast does not keep you full or satisfied for very long either as it contains hardly any fibre or protein. Please beware that this also applies to many products marketed as ‘low fat’, ‘wholegrain’ or for slimmers.
Having said that, there are some amazing healthy mueslis, granolas and porridges out there, but you have to choose more alternative health-food brands rather than the more well known brands. Always read the ingredients list and look for products based on oats, or other healthy whole-grains, with no added refined sugar. The ingredients list should be similar to if you were to make your own at home!
Low fat yoghurts and probiotic yoghurt drinks are another product marketed as healthy but full of sugar. Some also contain artificial flavourings and sweeteners. Instead stick to natural, live yoghurt, which provides protein and ‘friendly’ bacteria without the unwanted extras.
Beware of coffees from high-street chains, which can be high in sugar, caffeine, fat and calories. Larger drinks usually contain 2 shots of caffeine, which gives an initial energy boost, as the body releases adrenalin, but this is followed by fatigue as the adrenalin levels return to normal. (This is the point when we usually reach for another coffee!) Try green tea instead which contains a little caffeine for a gentle pick-me-up without the crash, and is also packed with protective antioxidants.
Here are some of my favourite breakfast suggestions, incorporating the above advice. The weekday breakfasts are all easy and fast to prepare, the weekend options take a little more time but are worth the effort as they are delicious!
• Overnight oats – take 5 minutes to prepare the night before, ready when you get up. Great for summer when too hot for porridge
• Porridge – inexpensive, healthy and very filling. My favourite toppings: banana, blueberries, cinnamon & almonds / Cashew butter, banana & cacao nibs / Grated apple, cinnamon, raisins & walnuts
• Rye toast with cashew or almond butter and sliced banana
• Mashed avocado on rye toast with pumpkin & sunflower seeds
• Fruit, yoghurt (natural, soya or coconut), nuts and seeds
• Making a batch of healthy oat breakfast bars or muffins on a Sunday for the week also works well for a quick, portable breakfast.
• Poached eggs with smoked salmon, grilled or roasted tomatoes, spinach, avocado and rye toast.
• Healthy French toast
• Healthy pancakes – use buckwheat flour, eggs and almond milk. Top with your favourite fruits.
• Healthy waffles – use the same batter as pancakes but make it slightly thicker. Add ground flaxseed, and vanilla or cinnamon for added flavour and nutrients.