\"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast\"
- John Gunther -
This month, we're helping you to understand the importance of eating in the morning
We've all heard the sayings: 'Breakfast is the most important meal of the day' and 'Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper'… But is there any truth to these statements?
Is breakfast really as vital as it is claimed to be? And if so, why? In short, the answer is yes. Breakfast literally means breaking the overnight fasting period, and it is essential that this fast is indeed, broken, to enable us to power through our morning, as well as to boost long-term health. However, according to the Association of Dieticians, only two thirds of adults in the UK and three quarters of Americans eat breakfast regularly (bbc.com).
There are many reasons as to why people skip the morning meal, with the most common being not having enough time or not feeling hungry so early on in the day.
But whatever the reason, we should all aim to get in some food upon waking. Over the next few pages, we investigate why eating in the morning is so important, collate a few great breakfast foods and round up a some of the best morning drinks.
Why is breakfast important?
The body's main energy source is glucose, and whenever we eat, glucose from food is broken down and absorbed from the carbohydrates we consume.
Most of this energy is stored by our bodies as fat, but our bodies also store some glucose as glycogen, with most of this stowed in our livers and smaller amounts in muscles.
When we fast, as we do when we sleep, our livers break down glycogen and release it into the bloodstream as glucose, in attempt to keep blood sugar levels stable. This process is super important for the brain, which depends almost entirely on glucose for energy.
Even when we are sleeping, the brain needs this energy to keep bodily functions going. When we wake up, after having gone without food for many hours, our glycogen stores are low and in need of replenishment. Once all of our energy from glucose stores are emptied - to get the energy it needs - the body will begin to break down fatty acids.
But without carbohydrate from foods, fatty acids are only semi-oxidised and this can reduce energy levels further. Consequently, eating breakfast will replenish the body's glycogen levels and boost our energy, ready to keep metabolism up for the day.
Restocks vitamins, minerals and nutrients
We all know that our bodies need vitamins, minerals and specific nutrients to function efficiently. When these levels are low, deficiencies occur leading to things like fatigue, fainting, slow recovery and headaches.
Just as the body uses up our energy stores, it also uses nutrients to repair and grow the body - so we must restock them.
These essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients can only be gained from food, so even though if you have skipped breakfast your body might be able to muster enough energy to make it to lunchtime, you still need to top up vitamin and mineral levels to maintain vitality and health.
Studies have found that if essential nutrients are skipped out on at breakfast, they are less likely to be compensated for throughout the day. So, if you miss breakfast, you probably won't hit your recommended daily allowance of things like iron, B12 or vitamin C.
People who skip breakfast tend to get really hungry later on in the morning, causing them to make less healthy choices when they do decide to refuel - choices that do not contain adequate nutrients and likely, are high in calories and fat.
Boosts cognitive function and mood
Have you noticed that when you haven't eaten breakfast, you find it more difficult to concentrate, remember details or focus on specific tasks? This is because your brain has not received the essential energy from glucose that it needs to function and get going.
Multiple studies have proven that not having breakfast affects our mental performance, attention, memory and ability to concentrate, and this can make even simple tasks difficult to complete.
There is also nothing worse than being constantly aware that you are hungry, counting down the minutes until lunchtime - it doesn't make for a productive person, in the workplace, at school or at home!
According to Shake Up Your Wake up, eating breakfast can also improve our mood and lower stress levels. Studies in children have shown that breakfast can improve attainment, behaviour and has also been linked to improved grades (shakeupyourwakeup.com).
Furthermore, because eating in the morning balances blood sugars, it will prevent tired and cranky feelings, improving our overall mood for the day.
What foods should we breakfast on?
Not only is it important that we eat breakfast regularly, but what we breakfast on is just as important.
A recent statistic showed that on average, British children under 10 years of age are currently consuming more than 50 per cent of their recommended daily allowance of sugar at breakfast time.
So many foods and drinks designed to be consumed in the morning contain alarmingly high amounts of the white stuff, in the form of sugary drinks, cereals and spreads, so be wary of these and check the labels.
Another worrying report, conducted by Change4Life, showed that many parents are unsure as to what actually makes up a healthy breakfast for their children - let alone for themselves!
Specifically, 84 per cent of parents whose children were found to be consuming over 50 per cent of their daily recommended dose of sugar before school started, actually thought that their child's breakfast was healthy!
(sciencedirect.com) Opt for lower-sugar cereals or those with no-added sugar, like plain wholewheat cereal biscuits or plain porridge.
It is also recommended that breakfast is eaten within two hours of waking, providing calories in the range of 20-30 per cent of your guideline daily allowance (shakeupyourwakeup.com).
A healthy breakfast, according to health specialists (eatingwell.com), should consist of:
• Whole grains. For example, wholegrain rolls or bagels; hot or cold whole-grain (low-sugar) cereals.
• Protein. Examples include legumes and nuts.
• Fruits and vegetables. This may be fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, 100 per cent juice drinks without added sugar, and fruit and vegetable smoothies.
There are lots of fortified vegan yoghurts and plant-milks that you can have with your breakfast, to ensure that you get a good dose of vitamins each morning. Look for those that are unsweetened, and have added nutrients like calcium and B12.
How can I make sure I eat breakfast?
Life can be busy, so there are some things we can do to make sure that we are eating a nutritious meal each morning. Try the following:
• Prepare your breakfast the night before - quick-to-make meals include overnight oats, pre-made granola pots with sliced fruit and batch-cooked healthy muffins.
This will mean that you can either eat when you wake, or grab-andgo - enjoying your brekkie on your commute or once you arrive at work.
• Set your alarm ten minutes earlier than usual, to make sure that you have the time to eat before you start the day or leave the house.
• Keep a selection of healthy and simple breakfast foods at work, to stop you from skipping or from buying an unhealthier option when the chance arises.
• Swap out time-wasting habits that you indulge in when you wake, like scrolling social media or checking emails. Use this time for breakfast, instead!