Breakfast is what gets me up in the morning. I literally fall down the stairs in attempt to get to my breakfast as fast as I can!
Breakfast plays a pivotal role in a healthy balanced diet - one where you eat a range of foods in the right amount for your activity levels.
Your overall diet should include plenty of vegetables and fruit, carbohydrates (whole grain or sprouted bread, rice, potatoes), protein (meats, fish, eggs, beans, lentils), fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, unrefined oils), and some dairy if you can tolerate it.
Every meal you eat should have a balanced range of food, including breakfast. The combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats in a meal is also what gives you a sense of satisfaction from your food. However, if we look at traditional breakfast items, such as cereal, toast, bagels, and croissants, they have one thing in common – they are carbohydrate dominant. Some have fats, and most have little to no protein, fruits or vegetables.
Let’s take a closer look at cereal. Eating cereal for breakfast is convenient. Unless it is of the whole grain variety, fortified with vitamins and minerals, then it has little to offer in terms of nutrition.
Most cereals are highly processed, high in sugar and salt and are mainly a source of energy in the form of carbohydrates. A typical 30g serving of Cornflakes has 25g of carbs, 2g of protein, and 0g of fat. That doesn’t sound very balanced to me. Adding in 150ml of milk will boost your protein intake slightly, by 5g or so, and some fats if you are full fat person, but this wouldn’t be enough to qualify as balanced.
And let’s face it, whoever has a single serve of 30g? I know that I would still be starvin marvin if all I ate was 30g of cereal. Most people tend to pour close to 100g into their bowl, without even realising - that is some whopping amount of carbohydrates for one meal.
Set Yourself Up For a Good Day
Loading up on convenience foods, or not having any breakfast at all, can set you for a bad day. Eating a healthy balanced breakfast is a daily habit that everyone should adopt, as it sets you up for a good day in more ways than one.
It increases your cognition, controls mood swings, improves body composition over time, leads to better food choices over the day, improves bowel movements, improves energy levels, and balances blood sugar.
The problem with high carbohydrate and sugary breakfasts is the blood sugar crash that follows. Unbalanced spikes and dips in blood sugars can lead to insatiable hunger later on, resulting in extreme bad moods and poor food choices. The vicious cycle thus ensues.
But eating cereal is fun! I am not out-lawing cereal, but it should be on your list of fun treats that you enjoy from time to time, rather than making it a staple in your diet.
The Perfect Brekkie?
There is no such thing as the perfect breakfast, as we are all unique, with different activity levels and body compositions. So instead of defining the perfect breakfast, I recommend finding a breakfast that works for you.
Find one that keeps you satisfied for some hours, makes you feel better, and leaves you in control of the rest of your day’s food choices.
When choosing breakfast, consider including protein dense food, unprocessed food, non-traditional breakfast foods such as vegetables, a healthy fat source, and whole grains such as oats and sprouted grains.
Most importantly, find a breakfast routine that works and stick with it. Here are some choices that can help you form a routine that's full of variety.
Oats are a great start to your day. However, a 40g serving has less than 5g of protein and little fat. To bump up the protein, whisk 2 egg whites while your oats are cooking, stir through the porridge when done and cook for a further few minutes. Sounds very odd, I know, but fluffy egg whites add volume and a creamy texture to the oats. Swirl in a spoon of nut butter for a healthy fat.
Try low fat 0% Greek yogurt (Liberte or Fage - look out for 10g protein per 100g product), topped with mixed berries, sprinkled with mixed seeds or chopped nuts. Cereal toppers from Lidl and Aldi, for around €2.50, are a great source of healthy fats.
Try scrambled eggs or lean bacon with sautéed mushrooms and spinach on a slice of whole grain or sprouted bread, such as rye or spelt.
Keep it Simple
Make whole grain soldiers and dip in runny boiled eggs. Finish with a handful of berries or a piece of fruit.
Hot Breakfast But Stuck For Time
Prepare a batch of eggy breakfast muffins the night before with all your favourite ingredients such as mushrooms, peppers and scallions. Store in the fridge and reheat in the morning. Pair with a slice of whole grain toast or some fruit.
Breakfast On The Go
Shake things up by blending together 0% Greek yogurt, mixed berries, some cucumber or celery or spinach or wheatgrass, a spoon of nut butter or avocado, and water or unsweetened almond milk. If you’re an active person, throw in a starchy carbohydrate, such as a banana or a scoop of oats. Spice it up with some cinnamon or a touch of all-spice.
Serve up some banana and egg pancakes. Simply blend together 2 eggs and 1 banana for the batter. Cook as you would your usual pancake. Add in a spoon of cocoa for the kids! Spread with some nut butter and top with stewed mixed berries and a dollop of natural yogurt.
Brain Power for Children
It has been shown that there is a significant relationship between what children eat and their brain function.
Eating fruit and vegetables and healthy fats also play a vital role in children’s performance at school. Malnutrition and poor breakfast choices can have a negative effect on cognition and reduces children’s performance at school.
A healthy balanced breakfast for children is extremely important to enhance learning, improve cognition and memory, as well as developing their overall health.
A child’s diet should include more whole foods, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats. Making some small tweaks to your child’s diet will greatly improve their brain development and behaviour.
Choose whole, minimally processed food and avoid processed foods that are explicitly marketed towards children.
Choose porridge or breakfast cereals that are high in fibre and low in salt and sugar – give the added honey or chocolate a miss. Give the breakfast cereal bars a miss – as they are usually stripped of the vitamins and minerals that are found in cereals, as well as missing out on the nutrients from the milk.
Choose wholemeal or granary breads for toasting. Choose fruit juices that contain 100% unsweetened pure fruit juice, or better still, choose fresh fruit every day. Make smoothies with fresh fruit and plain natural yogurt.
Most importantly, be a role model for your children. Take the lead and adopt healthy breakfast habits to set a good example of healthy eating. Kids are very perceptive to what their parents do and chances are your kid’s behaviours will follow those of yours. Monkey see, monkey do!
Witten by Karen Coghlan, your local Nut Coach.
[As published in The Herald on 29th September 2014 as part of my weekly nutrition column - Look Good Feel Good]