Which is the most important meal in the day? Breakfast, of course, everybody knows that. But it is? As with so many questions regarding nutrition, expert opinion is divided.
There has been some research that says people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight. But other studies have found that whether or not we eat breakfast has no effect on weight. So, which is it?
Some people eat breakfast, some don't. Some skip it thinking that saving the calories will help them lose weight, some skip it because they are simply not hungry in the morning, some because they are in a hurry and don't have time for breakfast. Others can't imagine doing anything until after breakfast, who will always find the time, and who would be starving if they didn't have it.
In my opinion, the biggest issue here - before discussing whether or not breakfast should be had at all - is what we are eating for breakfast. Of those who do have breakfast here in the western world, many seem to think that it can only be sweet, and that for us is the only breakfast which appeals. Think about typical British breakfasts:
- Toast with jam, honey or that famous chocolate-nut spread*
- Cereal: cornflakes, rice krispies, muesli with lots of raisins and other dried fruit, crunchy (honey-coated) nut, cocoa pops, little coloured hoops, instant porridge topped with skimmed milk
- Croissant (plain or almond), Danish pastries, muffin on the go
- pancakes with a drizzle of maple syrup
- English muffins or crumpets with butter and jam
- ... washed down with a cup of tea or coffee with a spoon or two of sugar, a caramel latte or a glass of orange juice
Any of these breakfasts would result in exceeding your daily sugar allowance, which - since the WHO changed it's recommendation last year - is just 35 g (= 7 teaspoons) of sugar per day. A sugary breakfast like this will send your insulin levels up high, causing blood sugar levels to crash within a short time, leaving us tired, irritable, and craving more sugar. The most natural thing to do at this point is to go in search of a biscuit, chocolate or another Danish and possibly another caffeinated drink with a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Yes, that'll give you energy, but just as before, this will be short-lived. The next insulin-high, followed by a blood sugar crash is on its way.
You may have noticed that the much criticised British fry-up is missing from the list above. That's because - in terms of sugar - it's actually the healthier choice. Granted, regular baked beans and white toast are not the best options, but apart from that it's not actually that bad. Eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and tomatoes, maybe with a slice of wholegrain toast and butter, will not send your blood sugar soaring, not trigger insulin and actually keep you fuller for longer. Other good breakfast options are:
- porridge (not instant, but from steel-cut rolled oats) with nuts and full-fat milk or almond milk and stewed apple or berries
- grilled asparagus topped with a poached egg
- scrambled egg and smoked salmon on wholegrain toast
- leftovers from dinner
- coconut flour pancakes with raspberries
- green smoothie with a good quality protein powder
In a previous post, I explained how balancing blood sugar works and why it is beneficial. Concerned about fatty breakfasts (bacon? smoked salmon? eggs?), click here to read my post "Sugar is the new fat".
Now back to the question of whether or not you should be eating breakfast. In my opinion, common sense should come in here: Listen to your body! Are you hungry? Then have breakfast, but a low-sugar one. Not hungry? Then don't. There is a good body of research on intermittent fasting now, which suggests (and so did Dr Chatterjee on the BBC programme "Doctor in the House") that applying the "16:8 rule" (16 hours of fasting, an 8-hour window of eating) can help regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight-loss. Some people choose to make lunch their first meal of the day, others prefer to skip dinner in favour of breakfast. It doesn't matter, there's still a beneficial effect.
So, if you think that this might work for you, give it a go. However if you find that without breakfast you can't concentrate, get irritable and impatient, feel dizzy or tired and find that by mid-morning you raid the vending machine at work, maybe you would be better off by having a low-GL (low glycaemic load) breakfast after all. If you are overweight, this approach will still help you lose weight, if you are stressed, balancing blood sugar can help you manage stress better.
If you rush out without breakfast despite being hungry, but there's just no time, consider getting up a little earlier (which usually means going to bed a little earlier) as a good, healthy, low-carb breakfast paired with protein can set you up for the day and avoid hunger-pangs and binges later in the day. It is hard to make sensible, healthy choices when you are starving hungry and your blood sugar is low. This is especially important if you are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure or cardio-vascular disease. A good breakfast helps modulate your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day.
Bottom line: Do what works for you. Eat real food, not too much. If you feel good, are at normal weight and you have good energy levels even if you skip breakfast, skip it. If you are overweight, suffer from one of the chronic diseases mentioned above, or are very stressed eat a good low-GL breakfast.
If you would like to learn more about how to balance blood sugar, lose weight, get more energy and balance your hormones better, why not give me a call and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea?
* If you would like to see what a jar of chocolate-nut spread would look like with its unmixed ingredients, have a look at my tomorrow's newsletter. There is still time to subscribe.