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What’s Really in Your Healthy Breakfast?

by Scott Masson(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 223 - July 2015


If there’s one thing nagging mothers the world over have always been right about, it’s that breakfast truly is one of the most important meals of the day. Not only does it provide your body and brain with much needed energy after fasting throughout the night, but it dramatically boosts cognitive function throughout the day; those who regularly eat breakfast even lose weight faster in the long term than those who skip breakfast.[1]  As well as this, studies have shown that your body can metabolise micronutrients and vitamins better at breakfast time than at any other meal time.[2]

However, busy schedules mean that people need fast, convenient breakfasts and simply don’t have the time to prepare meals themselves. Many of these ‘on-the-go’ breakfasts are explicitly marketed as health foods, or healthy alternatives to other breakfast foods, however, when one looks beyond the slogans, just how healthy are these breakfast options?

What's Really in your Healthy Breakfast

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Smoothies and Fruit Juices

Smoothies and fruit juices have come under intense scrutiny from both medical professionals and the media. Marketed as a convenient way of getting all the natural goodness of fruit, the smoothie and fruit juice industry is worth a whopping £150 million in the UK alone, making them some of the most popular items found in fridges across the nation.

However, smoothies and fruit juices can contain high levels of sugar; just one serving of Innocent brand banana and strawberry smoothie a day contains the same amount of sugar as 36 Tesco jam donuts over the course of one week. Similarly, one glass of orange juice contains more than 75% of the sugar found in a can of full fat coke. Although whole fruit also contains sugar, the problem with smoothies and juices is that the blending and processing can strip the fruit of the many nutrients and vitamins which make it so healthy in the first place.

To take matters worse, many fruit drinks are actually made from concentrates, which tend to contain far more sugar than ordinary whole fruit. Even when whole fruit is used, and measures are taken to preserve nutrients during the blending, as soon as fruit is processed it starts to lose vital nutrients and vitamins. Fibre, for example, is one of the more crucial nutrients which are removed during the blending process. Over time, this increased intake of sugar can have drastic health consequences, and a Harvard study even showed that, compared to those who eat whole fruits, juice and smoothie drinkers are at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Smoothies and juices also have the potential to make people unwittingly consume more calories than they had imagined. Liquefied food, compared to whole food, leaves people less sated by the same amount of calories, which leads to cravings and a greater total food intake over the course of a day.[3]  Liquefying foods also change the rate of digestion, which can have an effect on metabolism. For example a study showed that people who ate blended rice experienced a far sharper spike in blood sugar levels than people who ate whole rice.[3]

Low Fat Breakfast Bars & Sugary Cereals

Unfortunately, just because something is low in fat, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t fattening. Although ‘fat free’ foods may cut out the fat, many brands compensate for the poor taste with lots of sugar; sugar can have just as dramatic an effect on your waistline as dietary fat. For example, a pack of six Go Ahead! yoghurt breakfast bars contains the same amount of sugar as seven Kit Kats. Sugar is not just fattening due to its caloric density, either. When we eat foods with lots of sugar our blood is flooded with glucose. Because excess glucose is toxic, insulin levels are raised to pull the glucose into our cells where it can be used.

However, as great as insulin is, it has other effects, too. It signals to our fat cells that they should pick up fat from the bloodstream and store it, as well as inhibiting burning fat stores. Therefore big insulin spikes from sugary foods can have a huge effect on fat gain.

Over time, sugary diets can cause chronic health concerns, and it’s not just people with type 2 diabetes who should be concerned about this; cells can become insulin resistant, which means that more insulin needs to be released to aid glucose absorption. However, this also means that much more insulin is in the system. As a result, fat is constantly stored and the body can’t use it for fuel, leading to a high risk of obesity.

Choose a Truly Healthy Breakfast

Thankfully, there are healthy and convenient ways to eat a healthy breakfast, oats being one of the cheapest and healthiest options. They contain a lot of protein, which is not only an essential component of a healthy diet, but releases energy slowly over a long period of time, which keeps blood sugar levels stable, and reduces mid-morning cravings. By adding nuts, seeds and whole fruit to oats, they can be an excellent way to get a good vitamin and healthy fat fix first thing in the morning.

Whole grain bread is similarly much healthier than processed, white bread. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates which take the body much longer to break-down, ensuring a consistent and steady release of energy. Whole grains are full of essential fibres which aid digestion and lower blood cholesterol.

Eggs are also an excellent breakfast food, as they are packed full of nutrients such as energizing B vitamins as well as calcium and zinc. They are also a good source of protein for the budget and time conscious.


1.  Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Am J Clin Nutr. 81(2):388-96. 2005.

2.  J Adolesc Health. 27(5):314-21. Nov 2000.

3.  Crapo PA, Henry RR. Postprandial metabolic responses to the influence of food form. Am J Clin Nutr 48:560-4. 1988.


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About Scott Masson

Scott Masson is a graphic designer, content creator and inbound marketer, who specializes in health and fitness content. When he isn’t at his computer, he can be found training at the gym or dodging London bus drivers on his bike. Scott may be contacted via

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