Breakfast literally means “break fast”, meaning its purpose is to allow your body to refuel after a night of fasting, thereby topping up the fuel you have used during sleep when your body has been repairing and renewing itself. Often touted as the most important meal of the day, it is better to look at each meal you consume as important, rather than focus on one meal as being more important than another. Each meal will give you the energy you need to undergo your daily activities and allow your brain to receive nutrients to help you concentrate at work or at school. Eating regular meals can also help reduce feelings of hunger in-between which may leave you reaching for less healthy snacks, help you manage your weight and improve your glycaemic control (keep your blood glucose levels steady).
Many people skip breakfast, often citing lack of time as the main reason. However, eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits. Here are 5 excellent reasons to have a healthy breakfast:
1. It provides you with a range of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, fibre, iron, protein and calcium
2. People who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight and are more likely to lose weight successfully if overweight,
3. It can help improve your mental performance, concentration and mood
4. It may help prevent you from snacking on less healthy foods during the day
5. Research has shown that people who eat breakfast are at less risk of certain diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes
So what makes a healthy breakfast? Breakfast should provide about 25% of your daily nutritional requirements but there are some things you should bear in mind when deciding what foods to choose.
● Breakfast cereals are a great choice as they are often fortified with a number of nutrients such as vitamins, iron and calcium. They are also convenient and easy to prepare. However, do check the labels as they can often contain added sugar and salt. Opting for the wholegrain varieties will boost your fibre intake as we are falling way below the recommended 30g/day. For an added boost, try sprinkling nuts and/or seeds on your cereal or some chopped fruit.
● Oats are another great choice. They are so versatile and can be eaten hot as porridge or cold as overnight oats. Oats have been shown to help lower cholesterol and you can make your porridge more exciting by adding spices like cinnamon, chopped fresh or dried fruit, blueberries, grated dark chocolate or whatever you fancy! If you are really pushed for time in the mornings, you can make “overnight oats” by simply soaking oats in your milk of choice, add a bit of yoghurt and sprinkle your toppings of choice. Then in the morning all you have to do is grab your pot with a spoon and you have a healthy breakfast to eat at your desk.
● Bear in mind that if you are following a plant based diet or are unable to drink dairy, there are a huge range of non dairy milks available but check that your milk of choice is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Calcium us essential to keep your bones strong and healthy and your body needs vitamin D alongside it for absorption.
● If you enjoy a cooked breakfast, there are ways that you can make it healthier. Try not to have meat every day and look at your cooking methods. Instead of frying; poach, grill or bake and try not to add butter or cream to your scrambled eggs. Wholemeal toast with poached eggs, tomatoes or baked beans will provide a low fat breakfast with plenty of nutrients such as fibre, protein, iron and vitamins.
● Try to avoid reaching for foods high in sugar at breakfast as although it will provide you with an instant energy hit, your blood glucose levels will peak quickly and then drop, leaving you feeling tired and in need of another energy fix. Things to avoid include sugary breakfast cereals, breakfast bars or biscuits high in sugar, fizzy drinks and added sugar on your cereal – try adding fruit to sweeten it instead.
● Including a drink with your breakfast is important as staying hydrated improves your concentration levels. Opt for water, milk, tea or coffee but try to use skimmed milk. This will reduce your overall energy intake whilst still providing you with the same amount of calcium. In fact, skimmed milk has slightly more calcium than semi skimmed or whole!
If you are one of the many people who are unable to face eating breakfast straight away, that’s okay. Just try to eat within two hours of waking up. By including breakfast, you are providing your body with the fuel it needs to kick start the day, as well as improving the overall nutritional quality of your daily diet. It may require some additional planning at first and if you are not a fan of overnight oats, try toasting a wholemeal bagel, add your filling and wrap it up to take with you, or simply grab a banana. Whatever you choose, take your time eating it, be mindful so that you do not eat without realising that you are eating and most importantly of all, enjoy!