28 July 2021 at 16:14
You may have heard the saying “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” – promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day. The advent of commercial cereals in the Western world made breakfast into a quicker, more convenient meal and since the 80’s, skipping breakfast altogether became popular with dieters in an attempt to lose weight.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these different approaches to breakfast
A popular tactic with dieters in a basic attempt to reduce daily calorie intake, however this rarely results in long term weight loss. It seems logical that skipping breakfast should help to reduce daily calorie consumption; however, more often than not it leads to poor appetite control, cravings and over eating later in the day. If the blood sugar is not well balanced then skipping breakfast can also lead to headaches, dizziness and fatigue.
Delaying breakfast (e.g. Time restricted feeding or TRF)
This means food may only be taken within an 8 or 10 hour window in any 24 hour period, and many people find that delaying breakfast is the easiest way to achieve this. TRF is a great way to improve blood glucose control, reduce hunger, lose excess weight and increase energy levels but is not recommended during pregnancy or with certain chronic medical conditions. For TRF to work it has to be a total fast – water only. Even a small snack has the potential to cause an insulin release, leading to hunger and cravings before the fasting period is up. Read more about TRF here.
High protein/low carb breakfast
This is one of the best ways to take in food and still balance the blood sugar for the day, and is ideal for those who can’t follow time restricted feeding for medical reasons. Focus on items like eggs, yogurt, oily fish, nuts and seeds, while minimising carbohydrate foods like toast, cereals, honey and croissants.
Cooked (traditional English) breakfast
This will provide lots of energy to see you through the day, and sticking to the “dinner like a Pauper” method means the total daily calorie intake can remain within the recommended limits and the body can rejuvenate during sleep without having to spend energy on digestion. From a health point of view grilling is better than frying and it would be better to choose oily fish like salmon or mackerel rather than processed meat products like sausages and bacon.
Fortified with vitamins and iron which can make a significant contribution to daily intake of vital nutrients for some people who are not eating a particularly good diet. Wholegrain cereals are also a good source of fibre, so cutting them out could lead to constipation if the rest of the diet is not ideal. However, commercial cereals are mainly carbohydrate based with a poor ratio of protein and fat and if the cereal is coated with sugar or honey it could well be better to eat nothing at all! It is also very easy to overeat by filling a standard cereal bowl with twice the recommended portion size without realising.
The ultimate in convenience, but quite often the worst option – many so called “breakfast” bars are high in sugar with potential to disrupt blood glucose levels and not satisfy the appetite for very long. They are brightly packaged and heavily marketed and are usually an expensive option compared with boxed cereals or simple breakfast items like eggs or porridge oats.
These take just a little more effort than breakfast bars and are often marketed towards those trying to lose weight or follow a specific diet like keto. The quality varies so you really need to have a good understanding of nutritional composition to know which to choose. Many brag that they are low in sugar but nearly all contain sweeteners which will prompt an insulin response in the body regardless of whether you are actually consuming sugar. They may be fortified with a range of added nutrients but also work out quite poor value for money compared to making your own from ‘real’ foods.
Tips for a great breakfast
- Aim for high protein items, like boiled eggs, natural yogurt, fish, nuts and seeds – this will help keep you feeling fuller for longer, balance blood sugar and avoid mid-morning munchies
- If you want fruit, go for low GI fruits like berries and apples, topped with full fat natural yogurt and seeds to boost the protein content of the meal
- If you choose toast, make sure it is wholegrain, and avoid high sugar spreads like jam or honey. Nut butters are ideal as they are high in fat and protein, while being low in carbohydrate
- Commercial cereals can be useful for children or vegetarians as they are enriched with iron and vitamin B12 – but choose cereals that are high in fibre and low in sugar, preferably served with full fat yogurt and nuts or seeds to help stabilise blood sugar throughout the day
- Keep an eye on the portion size – weigh out a ‘portion’ of cereal and note where it comes to in your breakfast bowl. It can sometimes help psychologically to serve in a smaller bowl
- Be wary of granola, muesli and breakfast bars – many of these products contain high levels of sugar, despite being marketed as healthy alternatives
It is certain that different approaches are going to be suitable for different people. If you have an active job and no excess fat to burn, then plenty of calories at breakfast will help the body create energy so the full English might be your choice if you’re happy to restrict calorie intake in the evening to compensate. For those with poor blood sugar balance, or who are used to eating late at night, skipping breakfast can be uncomfortable and may trigger headaches, dizziness and fatigue; however, a gentle introduction to TRF might be a way to overcome these issues. Commercial cereals may be useful for fussy eaters with substandard diets, although it would be better in the long term to work on improving the rest of the diet.
If in any doubt, consult with a dietary professional such as a Nutritional Therapist to work out the best approach for you personally, and don’t be swayed by marketing claims.
Posted in Nutrition