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Is Breakfast Really That Important?


Most of us are familiar with the saying ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’, yet how many of us actually follow this maxim? Research shows that in countries like UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands most people eat little for breakfast, more at lunch time and the largest meal at dinner.


The same studies have revealed that:

  1. Those who eat more in the evening than in the morning are more likely to have a higher BMI.

  2. Those who don’t eat breakfast tend to eat larger meals later in the day and have a higher BMI.

In fact, research shows that people who don't skip breakfast tend to be slimmer than those who do. A healthy breakfast not only fires up the metabolism, but also provides a steady stream of energy throughout the day. This results in fewer cravings for sugar-dense, calorific, energy-providing snacks to get you through the day. Yet many people skip breakfast for reasons such as:

  • Not hungry first thing in the morning.

  • Part of an intermittent or other fasting diet.

  • Trying to lose weight.

  • Too rushed in the morning getting kids to school and/or to work on time.

However, eating breakfast like a king does not mean filling up on sugary cereals, croissants, muffins and toast and jam first thing in the morning. The word ‘breakfast’ literally means ‘breaking the fast’. Our bodies consume a lot of energy during the night (detoxing, rejuvenating and renewing cells etc), requiring us to replenish them with as many nutrients as possible upon waking to provide our depleted brains and bodies with fuel for the day ahead. It is advisable to eat breakfast within two hours of waking up, and it should supply 20 to 35 percent of our guideline daily allowance (GDA) of calories. According to the American National Health Service, “Eating breakfast has long term health benefits. It can reduce obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases and diabetes.”


Health benefits of a nutritious breakfast

There are several important health benefits provided by a healthy breakfast that last the entire day. These include:

  • Increased Energy Levels: A period of fasting that is approximately 10 to 12 hours between dinner and breakfast leaves the body with inadequate energy to function properly. Breaking the overnight fast is a chance for the body to replenish its blood glucose levels. Good glucose levels supply fuel to the brain and the body to fight fatigue and perform its numerous functions throughout the day. This is particularly important for school children who have a long day at school, requiring focus and concentration, energy for sporting activities and sufficient fuel to see them through after-school activities and homework.

  • Intake of Essential Vitamins and Minerals: A healthy breakfast gives the body an opportunity to consume essential vitamins and minerals required for the proper growth and maintenance of the body, strength of bones and the immune system, and for proper carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Those in the habit of having a good breakfast are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks during the day.

  • Improved Concentration: Having a healthy breakfast helps keep the body alert and productive throughout the day, helping to increase your focus, either at work or school. It improves coordination, concentration, creativity and problem-solving skills.

  • Maintains a Healthy Weight: A common misconception people have is that skipping breakfast helps with weight loss. This may be true if you can avoid snacking due to mid-morning energy crashes, however you are likely to find that your mood suffers as a result. A healthy breakfast stabilises your blood sugar levels and curbs those sugary snack cravings. Moreover, adding fibre, protein and healthy fats to your breakfast will help to keep your stomach full for longer.

  • Breakfast is the Foundation of a Healthy Diet: Those who prefer healthy breakfasts are more likely to have a healthy diet overall. Skipping your breakfast deprives the body of essential nutrients necessary to fuel the body for the day ahead. This often leads to energy crashes and mid-morning hunger cravings as your body’s way of signaling for important nutrients to make up for this shortfall. If you are a parent, it is important to establish a habit of eating a healthy breakfast from a young age, so your child naturally maintains it throughout their life.

If you don’t have time for a healthy breakfast, it is probably better to skip it altogether than to load up on sugary junk.

What does a healthy breakfast look like?

A certain amount of planning is necessary to start the day with a healthy breakfast. To begin with, eating whilst feeling ‘stressed’ or rushed in the morning, no matter how healthy the food, will, at least to some extent, negate the health benefits of the meal. If time is of the essence and it truly is impossible to take half an hour sitting calmly at the breakfast table, eating your food slowly, before the chaos of the day begins, then it may be necessary to get your nutritious start to the day from less time consuming juicing, or a smoothie. Here is a link to my 10 Epic Smoothie Bowl Recipes to jumpstart your morning. These recipes are full of nutrition and healthy fats and protein which will keep you energised and focused at least until lunchtime.

TIP: If you don’t have time for a healthy breakfast, it is probably better to skip it altogether than to load up on sugary junk. “When you start your day with sugar, you kick off an addictive cycle of sugar and carb cravings that will last all day long,” writes Dr Mark Hyman in his book, Food, What the Heck Should I Eat? This includes ‘healthy’ choices such as most bran muffins, fruit flavoured yoghurt and the majority of granola bars. Even oats have a high glycaemic index which is reduced if you add a handful of nuts and seeds to your bowl.

TIP: Although juicing is a quick and easy way to get lots of vitamins and minerals into your diet first thing in the morning, drinking fruit results in more calories than eating it as it lacks the fibre of the whole fruit. In addition, drinking fruit does not create the sensation of fullness that eating does. This applies to the sweeter vegetables as well, such as carrots and beetroot. Therefore, if you’re going to start your day with a juice as part of a healthy breakfast, consider having it alongside something a little more substantial that will keep you full.

Tip: The best way to start the day is to have a combination of fat and protein for breakfast. According to Dr. Hyman, studies show that protein-rich breakfasts can improve satiety, keeping you full and fuelling you for the day ahead. It also “helps reduce your hunger hormone ghrelin and increase cholecystokinin, which signals your brain to stop eating. Protein-rich foods like eggs, nut butters, or a protein shake steady blood sugar and reduce metabolic fluctuations later in the day.”


The truth about eggs

Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy about the health of eggs, especially in relation to their cholesterol content. This has caused many people to avoid them, or to discard the yolk and eat only the white. The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines found that there was categorically no link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.

So the most up-to-date research currently available is that eggs are a health food and should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. This does not mean eggs from antibiotic fed, factory farmed chickens but rather organic eggs that are from chickens which are fed natural food and have access to the outdoors. Not only is this more humane, but these eggs are richer in omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and E.

Here are some healthy breakfast suggestions to get you started:

Scrambled eggs – 5 ways


Spinach and feta: 2 large eggs, 1tsp coconut oil, pinch of salt, twist of black pepper. Wilt a generous handful of spinach in a teaspoon of coconut oil and a splash of water. Crumble a tablespoon of feta.


Fresh herbs: 2 large eggs, smidge of cold water, 1tsp coconut oil, pinch of salt, twist of black pepper. Chop up a mix of fresh herbs. Chives and Parsley are a great combo.


Parmesan and pesto: 2 large eggs, smidge of cold water, 1tsp coconut oil, pinch of salt, twist of black pepper. Grate 2 teaspoons of parmesan and use 1 tablespoon of pesto.


Smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives: 2 large eggs, smidge of cold water, 1tsp coconut oil, pinch of salt, twist of black pepper. 30g of chopped smoked salmon, 30g cream cheese, sprinkle of chopped fresh chives.


Tomatoes and red peppers: 2 large eggs, smidge of cold water, 1tsp coconut oil, pinch of salt, twist of black pepper. Chop up 4-6 cherry tomatoes or 1 larger tomato, together with a few slices of red pepper and sauté in 1 teaspoon coconut oil for 2—3 mins. Mix the eggs, water, salt and pepper and give it a good whisk. Melt the oil in a non-stick pan and add the eggs. Gently fold the eggs with a wooden spoon, until they are almost set. Final stage is to add in the filling – stir gently for a few seconds until nicely integrated.

Overnight oats:

Oats are such a versatile food and can help you to stay fuller for longer. You can also mix and match toppings and fillings to ensure that you get a good balance of healthy fats, protein and at least a portion of fruit to set you up for the day. Choose an item from each category and mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Top with your choice of topping, put in the fridge overnight and it’s ready for you first thing in the morning!

Base (40g) : oats | quinoa flakes | buckwheat flakes. Liquid (150ml unsweetened) : almond milk | hemp milk | coconut milk. Protein: 1 tbsp protein powder | 100g plain Greek yoghurt | 20g chopped nuts. Seeds (1 tbsp): chia seeds | flaxseeds | pumpkin seeds. Toppings: 1 handful frozen/fresh berries, 1 chopped apple/pear/peach/nectarine, 2 chopped plums/apricots.


Blackberry pancakes

(serves 3): Ingredients:

  • 120g oats

  • 30g mixed seeds (pumpkin / sesame / sunflower)

  • 1 medium banana

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 3 eggs

  • 300ml coconut / almond milk

  • 300g blackberries

  • Coconut oil for frying.

Method:

  1. Grind the oats and mixed seeds to create a coarse flour.

  2. Mash the banana in a large bowl.

  3. Add the oat/seed flour to the mashed banana along with the baking powder and mix together.

  4. Add the eggs and mix well.

  5. Measure out the milk into a jug. Take a small handful of the blackberries, wash and add to the milk. Using a hand-held blender, whizz to turn the milk purple. Add to the large bowl and incorporate well into the flour mixture.

  6. Heat just enough coconut oil to skim the bottom of a frying pan. Using a ladle, add the mixture to the pan. Cook on a medium heat for approximately 60 secs (bubbles will appear) before turning and finishing off.

  7. To create a sauce, place the remaining blackberries into a small saucepan with 2 tbsps water. Cook the blackberries until they start to break down – some will remain whole.

  8. Divide the pancakes between 3 plates and drizzle the blackberry sauce over the top.

  9. If desired, add one tbsp almond butter to spread on your pancakes. These keep well for 3 days in the fridge or can be frozen for an easy mid-week breakfast.


Seedy quinoa bread:

(makes 15 slices)


Ingredients:

  • 300g quinoa

  • 4 tsp salt

  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

  • 200g buckwheat flour

  • 1 tbsp baking powder

  • 50g brown flaxseed

  • 50g pumpkin seeds

  • 50g sunflower seeds

  • 2 eggs

  • 3 tbsp mixed seeds (to sprinkle)

Method:

  1. Soak the quinoa overnight in double the volume of water and 2 tsp salt. In the morning, drain and rinse well before using.

  2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper / loaf liner.

  3. Place the quinoa into the food processor with the maple syrup and whizz to a smooth batter. Add the flour, baking powder, and the remaining salt, and whizz again until combined. Gradually add 240ml water.

  4. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the seeds. Stir to combine before folding in the eggs.

  5. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the additional seeds.

  6. Bake for 1 hr or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.

  7. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out and cooling on a cooling rack fully before slicing.

Serving suggestions:

  • Almond butter and crushed fresh raspberries

  • Poached egg and smoked salmon

  • Smashed avocado and boiled egg

Once cooled, this bread can be frozen in slices and defrosted easily or put straight into the toaster to toast. For more breakfast suggestions, download my free Healthy Breakfast Ideas e-book.

A final word on – intermittent (or other) fasting

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is becoming more and more popular and has in fact been shown to contribute to weight loss and even accelerated cell repair. Nutritional Therapy is underpinned by Functional Medicine, which looks at the individual and ensures a more personalised approach to diet and lifestyle. If you are skipping breakfast but feel great, energised and are not reliant on numerous stimulants like coffee to get you going, accompanied by energy crashes and sugar cravings throughout the day, then for you personally, IF may well be very beneficial.

However, as a Nutritional Therapist I always recommend that students at school or university, and adults with a long and pressurised work day ahead, begin the day with a nutritious and healthy breakfast to provide their bodies with the energy, fuel and nutrients necessary to effectively deal with a challenging day. For more information on intermittent fasting, please take a look at this short video.





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