An expert’s guide to the ultimate healthy breakfast
-Apr 9, Caroline Blight , Nutrition -
Breakfast is crucial for great health. What you eat for your first meal of the day can either dent or boost your energy levels and your mood. Our expert takes a look at what’s the best option.
For some people it’s the best meal of the day and they need no prompting to ‘breakfast like a king’ as they wake up ravenous.
For others the mere sight of anything other than a cup of tea in the morning makes them nauseous.
But time and time again we are told that breakfast is so important.
We caught up with nutritional therapist Helen Adams for the low-down on breakfast and just how much we need to make it a priority.
Why is breakfast so important?
Breakfast provides the body and brain with fuel after an overnight fast – that’s where its name originates, breaking the fast!
Without breakfast you are effectively running on empty because when we are sleeping our bodies are actually working hard.
“Overnight, our bodies have been resting and repairing, restoring themselves back to the best health they can,” explains Helen. “You can think of that like the overnight maintenance service: clearing away the rubbish, tidying, polishing and making sure everything is spick and span for the next days’ assaults.”
To prepare our bodies for the day ahead we need to provide our body with energy and hydration.
Breakfast also restores glucose levels, an essential carbohydrate that is needed for the brain to function.
Many studies have shown how eating breakfast can improve memory and concentration levels and it can also make us happier as it can improve mood and lower stress levels.
In studies amongst children, breakfast can improve attainment, behaviour and has been linked to improved grades.
Just like any other organ in the body, the brain needs energy to work at it’s best!
How soon after waking up should we eat breakfast?
Depending on when you start work or how busy your morning is you might not have 10 mins to eat breakfast as soon as you get up – or indeed be unable to face the idea of food when you’re still bleary eyed.
But that’s fine says Helen, “There isn’t a hard and fast rule about how soon we should eat – everyone is different, it’s really a question of ‘when you’re ready’.
If you feel ready to eat, then do. On the other hand, if your body seems to need a while longer to wake up, then let that happen too.”
Listening to your body is key because some of us need a little longer for the digestive system to wake up too.
“In order to be ready for more food, certain digestive enzymes have to be primed, ready to go,” explains Helen.
“Some people need a bit of help with that and a glass of filtered water – not tap water – with a nice thick slice of lemon in it, or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar can help.
“This gets those digestive juices working and ready for food.”
In fact, eating any time in the morning is acceptable and has benefit too. “If you don’t feel like eating until 11am, for example, that’s fine because you’re extending the period of your overnight fast, your ‘maintenance period’.
This is good for weight loss and is much easier to achieve without any adverse effects than the typical 5:2 diet, when you’re restricting calories during a busy day and often feel very tired and get a headache.
For weight loss purposes, if you increase the amount of activity a little during the morning before you eat, that also helps to burn off some extra calories.”
Just make sure a late breakfast is a proper meal and not just a raid on the biscuit jar of chocolate covered treat from the vending machine!
Is it true a bigger breakfast and smaller evening meal is best for you?
There is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest front-ending your day with your calorie load rather than a blow-out dinner is better for weight loss or maintenance.
Research shows those who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight and more likely to be within their ideal weight range compared with breakfast skippers.
“We need most of our fuel in the morning to last us through the day,” explains Helen.
“Eating a large meal last thing at night is unhelpful because we can’t use that energy – unless you have a very active evening! It will end up either as fat, because excess glucose is converted into fat stores, or not digested before you go to bed.
“Then it will ferment in your gut overnight – a feast for the sort of bacteria you don’t want, but not helpful for you.”
What’s the best thing to eat for breakfast?
Apart from providing us with energy, breakfast foods are good sources of important nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins as well as protein and fibre.
The body needs these essential nutrients and research shows that if these are missed at breakfast, they are less likely to be compensated for later in the day.
Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals so try to include a portion of your daily five at breakfast, whether that be a banana or glass of fresh fruit juice.
Great breakfast choices include:
Avocado and egg on wholegrain toast
Sugar free muesli and unsweetened yoghurt with fresh berries
Wholemeal toast with nut butter and banana
Rye crackers with smoked salmon and cream cheese
Or even a green smoothie – try out our expert’s recipe.
Helen explains: “My particular favourites are porridge made in my own special way with banana, all cooked together with a healthy serving of butter, with cinnamon, ginger and a little vanilla essence.
“If you don’t have a sweet tooth, there are lots of other things you could add to scrambled eggs that would be really tasty too.
We need the balance of food groups to supply us with all the raw ingredients for the day, and missing any one of those puts us in deficit.
“You may have heard of ‘unbalanced blood sugar’ – this is why it happens.”
…And what is the worst breakfast?
Walk down the breakfast aisle of any supermarket and you will find plenty of contenders for the title of ‘worst breakfast’!
Many of them will bill themselves as somehow nutritionally beneficial which can make it confusing to know what to choose.
“The worst breakfasts are processed cereals that you drown in milk and sugar – altogether the worst combination,” says Helen.
“The carbs and sugar are very quickly broken down into glucose. Glucose is like rocket fuel – you can only handle so much at once.
“You might feel you could climb Everest when you leave the house, but by the time you get to work, you feel like murdering someone, or you feel completely drained and just crave more sugar!”
And quite frankly mornings are hard enough as it is!
The ultimate porridge recipe
This recipe is a complete meal. It gives you proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, insoluble and soluble fibre, omega-3 and phytonutrients.
1⁄2 cup porridge oats
1 1⁄2 cups non-dairy milk (I use coconut, almond or cashew)
1 tbs coconut oil
1 dessertspoon nut butter (I like cashew. Don’t use peanut)
1 tbs milled flaxseed or milled chia seed
Blueberries or raspberries or strawberries (or any combination), to taste
A pinch of seasalt
OPTIONAL: cinnamon and or ginger with banana instead of berries, just for a change
Soak the oats overnight in the same nut milk you use to cook with. This breaks down the fibres in the oats. Leave it in the fridge covered over.
In the morning, melt the coconut oil in the pan first Add the oats and milk mixture Add the nut butter Cook for around 3 minutes, chopping up the nut butter into the oat mixture to blend it in When cooked sufficiently, add a pinch of seasalt and stir
Remove from heat. Mix in the milled flaxseed or chia seed (chia seed absorbs more liquid so you may need a little extra nut milk, depending on the brands used)
Add the berries on top and serve.
What are your favourite breakfasts? Do you prefer cooked or something simple? Let us know. If you enjoyed this here’s a simple recipe for a delicious soup that makes the perfect healthy lunch. Have you ever wondered how top nutritionist Eve Kalinik spends her day? Here she tells us what she eats in step by step detail.