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Breakfast - The Best Way to Start the Day

by Dr Lindsey Masson(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 240 - August 2017

What is Breakfast and Why is it Important?

The word ‘breakfast’ originated from the 15th century to describe the first meal of the day, eaten in the morning, and which will break the fast of the previous night.[1] Whilst breakfast is typically eaten before the start of the day’s activities, our eating patterns are becoming more varied, with snacking and skipping meals becoming more common. Research suggests that skipping breakfast is associated with a poorer quality of diet (lower in vitamins and minerals and higher in sugars), and increased risk of developing overweight and obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.[2] Therefore, daily breakfast consumption may provide health benefits in addition to promoting healthy dietary habits for the rest of the day.

Masson 240

 

What to Eat at Breakfast Time?

Ideally, we want a healthy start to the day, which means a breakfast that is low in saturated fat and free sugars, but high in fibre, fruit and/or vegetables. Variety is also important - to ensure we obtain a range of nutrients and other beneficial compounds, but also for enjoyment as boredom can easily set in if we consume the same breakfast every day.

Fibre keeps the digestive system healthy and is beneficial for reducing the risk of bowel cancer[3] and heart disease.[4] It also helps us feel full, which means we are less likely to eat too much later on in the morning. However, in general, the UK population is not meeting the recommended intake of 30g/day.[5] To improve this, there are significant sources of fibre that can be easily consumed at breakfast time, including wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables. Some wholegrain breakfast cereals do tend to be high in free sugars however, so it is important to check the label on the food packaging and avoid cereals that have a high amount of total sugars.

First thing in the morning is often a busy time for households and time is limited. Therefore, there is a need for breakfast to be quick and easy to prepare. A number of quick and nutritious breakfast ideas include:

  • Wholegrain breakfast cereal and reduced fat milk (semi-skimmed or skimmed) - you can try adding some chopped nuts or dried fruit on top;
  • Porridge oats are an excellent fibre source and porridge can be jazzed up by sprinkling on chopped nuts or dried fruit, such as sultanas or apricots, or by stirring in some cinnamon;
  • Wholemeal bread or toast with mashed banana, mashed avocado or peanut butter on top;
  • Chopped fruit with plain low-fat yogurt and no-added sugar muesli on top for a bit of crunch. You should limit consumption of flavoured yogurt, which will contain added sugar.

If you have more time in the morning, eggs are a fantastic source of high-quality protein. They can be boiled, scrambled, poached or turned into an omelette with your favourite vegetables, such as peppers, spring onions or mushrooms. You can try adding some black pepper or chilli powder for a bit of a kick. Whilst egg consumption was thought to contribute to high blood cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease for nearly 50 years, research has now shown that eggs are not associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet.[6]

Pancakes might also be a good idea for a weekend treat and kids will love making them. They can also be made without sugar - 1 egg, 4oz plain flour, ½ pint of milk and a pinch of salt is sufficient to make the pancake mixture. You can eat them with low-fat spread, low-fat yogurt or your favourite fruit.

What to Avoid at Breakfast Time?

The main foods to avoid or limit at breakfast time are biscuits, cakes, pastries and confectionary, which are generally high in free sugars and/or fat, low in fibre and contain very few vitamins and minerals. Sugary drinks in general also contain few nutrients. Whilst a small glass of fruit juice can contribute to one of your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables, it is also high in free sugars, so fruit juice consumption should be limited to one small glass (150ml) per day. We should reduce our free sugar consumption to less than 30g/day (around seven sugar cubes), in order to prevent tooth decay and weight gain.[5]

The traditional full English fried breakfast of bacon, sausages, black pudding, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans is perhaps not something that should be consumed every day. This breakfast is typically served floating in a sea of oil and can contribute to excess fat consumption, and thus weight gain and raised blood cholesterol levels. Therefore, grilling would be a healthier cooking alternative to frying. Salt is often added during cooking and at the table to this breakfast, and we need to reduce our salt consumption to less than 6g/day in order to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Try adding black pepper at the table instead of salt for a change. Reduced salt and reduced sugar baked beans can also be purchased as a healthier option.

Finally, the bacon roll is something that should also be replaced. In general, processed meat should be avoided as it has been classed as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer,[7] and is a convincing cause of bowel cancer[3] and a probable cause of stomach cancer.[8] This includes meat that has been preserved by curing, salting, smoking or through the addition of chemical preservatives such as nitrate and nitrite fortified salts. Most processed meats contain pork (e.g. bacon) or beef (e.g. corned beef, beef jerky or pastrami), but can also include other red meat, poultry, offal or meat by-products like blood (e.g. black pudding). Sausages are only classed as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt, nitrates, nitrites or other preservatives.

Summary

We should start the day with a healthy breakfast - high in fibre, vitamins and minerals - and we should avoid sugary, fatty or salted foods and processed meat. This can involve wholegrain cereals, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy (i.e. milk, yogurt or cheese) and eggs. Most importantly, breakfast should be varied and enjoyed! 

References

1.         Oxford University Press. Oxford Dictionaries. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/breakfast [Accessed 16 June 2017].

2.         St-Onga MP et al. Meal timing and frequency: implications for cardiovascular disease prevention: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 135: e96-e121. 2017.

3.         World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer. 2011.

4.         Threapleton DE et al. Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 347: f6879. 2013.

5.         Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Carbohydrates and Health. London: TSO. 2015.

6.         McNamara DJ. The fifty year rehabilitation of the egg. Nutrients 7: 8716-8722. 2015.

7.         International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans: Agents classified by the IARC monographs, volumes 1-114. Available from: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php [Accessed 24 January 2016].

8.         World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Stomach Cancer. 2016.

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About Dr Lindsey Masson

Dr Lindsey Masson BSc(Hons) MSc PhD  is a Lecturer in Nutrition at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland, and is also a Registered Nutritionist, listed on the Association for Nutrition’s UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN). She obtained her BSc (Hons) Health Sciences, MSc Human Nutrition and Metabolism, and PhD Human Nutrition from the University of Aberdeen. Dr Masson is also a researcher and studies the link between diet and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer and may be contacted via l.f.masson@rgu.ac.uk     www.rgu.ac.uk/lindsey-masson /

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