If you regularly skip breakfast, then your body is going 18 hours without food, that’s if you last ate at dinner the day before. Think about how you would feel if you fasted for 18 hrs in the daytime? It makes sense that you need to eat after a nights sleep, a time when your body has resting but also restoring and rebuiding itself.
If you do skip breakfast then it is going to make it more difficult to get all your important nutrients. Or, if you’re skipping it because you’re pushed for time, but then you reach for a quick snack like a pastry or some biscuits later on, that shows your body needed some nutrition.
Studies show those who have breakfast have reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, compared to those that skip it. In children it has been shown that eating breakfast can boost cognitive function.
What should you have for breakfast?
Base your meal on starchy wholegrain carbohydrate that will keep you fuller for longer due to its higher fibre content. Carbs also provide you with B vitamins and iron, which help with energy and breads are fortified with calcium too.
Breakfast is also a key meal to get some protein into your day, which can help with satiety and blood sugar control. In order to get your fruit and veg portions in you also want to plan to get at least 1 portion in.
Cereals can be a good choice but be aware of the sugar content. Porridge, wheat bisks and readybrek are some of the lowest sugar cereal options out on the market. A low sugar food has less than 5g per 100g so check the label. A lot of cereals out there, even the ones that look healthy, are packed with added sugars, or naturally contain a lot of sugar. This is especially worth being mindful of if you have diabetes, or pre-diabetes.
If you have time for a cooked breakfast, get in some of your 5 a day with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. If you’re running out of the door, a banana is easy to grab-and-go, or you could throw a handful of berries on your cereal/porridge, or a small handful of dried fruit. A small (150ml) glass of juice or a smoothie is also a good choice, or you can make your own smoothie, and add natural yoghurt for additional protein and calcium.
Throughout the day you should have 2-3 servings of protein. A breakfast serving of protein could include: eggs, smoked salmon on a wholewheat bagel with low-fat creamcheese, tinned sardines on toast; muesli with Greek yoghurt and a sprinkle of seeds; baked beans are also naturally high in protein but the sauce can be high in sugar and salt. There are lots of vegetarian sausages available which are an easy swap if you’re wanting to cut down on your meat intake, or want an option that’s lower in fat and salt and higher in fibre.
If you’re choosing a non-dairy milk, make sure you read the label to check that it is fortified with calcium and iodine. Did you know that cow’s milk is our main source of iodine in the UK? So unless you love sushi and regularly eat fish you will need iodine in your milk. Currently the Oatly range and some of the Marks and Spencers plant milks are fortified.
What about cereal bars?
Most cereal bars contain added sugars, and per 100g are rated as being ‘high’ in sugar. Their sugar content can be no different from a chocolate bar, but cereal bars are perceived as more healthy. Types of sugar are important: Nakd bars, for example, are high in sugar, but none of the sugars are added, they come from the fruit. Check the label for words ending in ‘-ose’ or the word syrup. Eat Natural bars are lower in sugar than the other options out there like Nature Valley, Go Ahead! and Jordans, but they have higher saturated fat content because they’re made with palm oil and coconut. Belvita breakfast biscuits have a moderate sugar content and a low saturated fat content with oats in them so they appear a healthier choice. Remember, however the portion size, as a packet will contain 4 biscuits, so overall you’d consume more sugar than if you had one cereal bar of another brand.
Many thanks to Naomi Leppitt for her help with this post.