Is breakfast still the most important meal of the day?
Posted on 12th October 2016 at 07:45
You may well have heard the saying “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.” But is it still true today? Our answer would always be a resounding “yes” (!) and you only need look at the word itself to see why it’s so important.
Breakfast is an old english word which can be traced back to the 15th century. It’s a shortened form of “breaking the fast”. In other words the first meal of the day which “breaks the fast” of the previous night.
While we may sleep during the night our bodies don’t; with many vital housekeeping and detoxing processes running overnight. This is the reason why we wake up feeling hungry – and often thirsty too – as our metabolic rate, blood sugar, energy and hydration levels all tend to be at their lowest when we wake. Not forgetting the essential trip to the bathroom to get rid of the end results of all that work (!) and freshen up for the new day..
Breakfast is all about topping up your tanks for the coming day. Without it you’re starting that day’s journey without any fuel in the tank. You wouldn’t set out in your car with the fuel gauge on red and expect to complete a long journey, so why would you do this to your body?
Not only does breakfast provide the necessary energy and nutrients for the day, it has lots of other benefits too. To start with, when you’re hungry it becomes increasingly hard to focus on all the things you want to do. And we’ve all experienced that at times (!). Concentration levels fall, as does your mood. Food becomes an increasing preoccupation, as does what you’d like to eat right now, with your mood quickly following suit.
Eating breakfast also kick starts your metabolism which naturally slows down during the night when you’re less physically active. Research has repeatedly shown eating breakfast is key in helping to manage weight and prevent weight gain. Not only does it reduce the likelihood of overeating later in the day, but has also been linked to being more physically active during the day as a whole.
It has also been shown to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or coronary artery disease. Recent research by Harvard School of Public Health carried out over 16 years found that those skipping breakfast were 27% more likely to suffer a heart attack. It also increased rates of cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Interestingly eating later in the day – particularly in the late evening – has also been linked to similar problems.
What makes an ideal breakfast?
Turn back the clock a few decades and breakfast would have been a cooked meal, high in protein and fat, low in carbohydrates. The traditional english breakfast. Come back to the present day and it tends to be exactly the opposite. High in carbohydrate, low in protein and fat. Breakfast cereals or toast.
While it may go against conventional wisdom, it’s become increasingly clear in recent years that a diet high in carbohydrates carries significant health risks. In particular obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Sadly, many breakfast cereals – and toast – come in the form of highly processed wheat products which the body finds hard to process. This leads to weight gain as raised blood glucose levels are quickly converted into triglycerides which are then stored as fat. At the same time metabolic processes are interrupted – particularly of the pancreas, which produces insulin to help digest carbohydrates – and significantly increases the risk of developing diabetes.
Added to this, the process used to make many breakfast cereals uses high temperatures. These change the structure of the cereal itself, as well as destroying the majority of other nutrients. And this is without taking into account the various other additives, synthetic vitamins, salt and sugar included in these products. For producers breakfast cereals are a high profit product, with a few pennies of raw materials become a premium product costing several pounds.
Recent research presented at the European Association for the study of diabetes found that a breakfast based on protein and fat helped those with diabetes control both their hunger and blood sugar levels. They had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who skipped breakfast we well as having lower – and more stable – blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Does this mean a return to the traditional english breakfast?
No. There are many other protein rich options available. It just depends on how adventurous you want to be!
For the more traditional among you there’s scrambled, boiled or poached eggs with a slice of good quality wholemeal toast. Smoked salmon or avocado can always be added to your scrambled or poached eggs as a change. What about a breakfast omelette? Or grilled bacon, mushroom and tomato?
Then there’s a continental type breakfast of breakfast cheese, meats and fruit.
Porridge, made with the oats soaked overnight in apple juice or water and topped with nuts, seeds and fruit. Or homemade muesli or granola topped with fresh fruit and seeds.
Natural goats yoghurt with your favourite fresh fruit, nuts or seeds.
If you’re in a hurry a smoothie based on banana or vegetables rather than fruit is an easy way to start the day. And one you may not have thought of, fruit and cheese, if you’re in a real hurry!
And if you need an added incentive we just have to mention a couple of rather bizarre pieces of research we came across while writing this week’s blog. The first dates back to 1942. It found that rats fed on only sugar and water lived twice as long as those given puffed wheat, vitamins and water. The second took place in 1960. This found that rats fed on cornflakes and water died before those fed on only the cereal’s cardboard box and water. We’ll leave you to make of these what you may (!).
As always, the choice is yours.
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