Our nutrition expert Helen Gibbs explains the best breakfast options for better health.
I often get asked about the importance of breakfast for nutrition and weight loss.
People get confused because there is conflicting research about what foods make the best breakfast and even whether you should eat breakfast at all.
Professionally I’m a fan of eating a breakfast that enhances the nutritional quality of the whole day’s eating – that means eating a healthy morning meal.
Research shows that the majority of people who have successfully lost weight eat breakfast most days per week.
Breakfast needs to be big enough so you are less likely to make poor choices mid-morning or midday, because you are hungry.
If you struggle with eating breakfast, it can help to think about it as “breaking the fast” when you and your body feel ready.
If you can’t eat first thing in the morning, I suggest taking an appropriate choice for breakfast to your workplace and eating it just before you start work or mid-morning.
However, if you are taking insulin, or sulphonylureas (such as gliclazide or glipizide) in the morning, you will need to time breakfast to reduce your risk of hypoglycaemia.
Historically breakfast would have been leftovers supplemented with a “pease-pudding” – a thick-grain porridge. Our forefathers were onto it, this would have been a pretty healthy start to the morning.
Latest research suggests breakfast should have some wholegrain starchy food, plus protein, and at least one serving of vegetables or fruit.
Eating 90g of whole grains a day reduces the risk of a whole range of lifestyle diseases, according to recent studies.
The simplest way to get the 90g a day is to ensure that you have 30-45 g of wholegrain cereal food at breakfast time.
Rolled oats are a wholegrain. A serving of porridge also gives you 12% of an adult’s recommended daily protein intake. Add some low-fat natural yoghurt and a serve of fruit and you have a healthy breakfast.
I recommend making porridge from scratch, it’s quick, cheap and healthy because you control how much sugar and fruit is in it.
Shop-bought granola, muesli, and instant porridge sachets can be packed with hidden sugars. However, there are some low-sugar muesli options coming onto the market.
Weetbix is 97% wholegrain, this means that just 3% of the ingredients are not from a wholegrain. It’s low in sugar and salt but has less protein per serve than porridge. Add some low-fat natural yoghurt and fruit for a balanced start to the day.
It may take you several weeks, but if you can get used to fruit being your source of sweetness on your cereal, you are reducing your free-sugar intake and increasing your healthy fruit servings.
Good quality wholegrain bread – dense grainy bread rather than the white bread with bits in it – is another good breakfast option. Two slices will give you around 30g of whole grains.
Then add some protein. One of the big recent changes in nutrition is the acceptability of eggs. People with diabetes can now have six to seven eggs a week – that’s up to one a day.
Other good protein options include baked beans (reduced sugar and salt is good but not vital), 30g of cheese, or 125g of a reduced-fat natural yogurt.
Adding vegetables, for example tomatoes, mushrooms, or leftover vegetables from the night before, is a great way to help us meet our recommended five veges a day.
Try two slices of wholegrain bread with sliced avocado and cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of lemon juice and good quality olive oil for a delicious healthy breakfast.
Many people ask me if smoothies are an OK start to the day. Smoothies are fine if they fit the protein + wholegrain + fruit/vege recommendations above.
For example, if you make your smoothie with 1 serve of fruit (80-100g), 125ml reduced fat yoghurt (or 200ml milk) and 30g of oats, you have a nicely balanced start to the day.
You could also try chia seeds to replace some or all of the oats, but smoothies made with grains will thicken on standing, so you may need a spoon!
Finally, try writing a daily roster of healthy family breakfasts and stick it on the fridge. For example, porridge on Monday, baked beans on toast on Tuesday, and so on.
Then everyone in the family knows what’s coming each day, there will be fewer arguments, and your kids or partner might even make.
Helen Gibbs is a New Zealand registered dietitian. She is currently working for WellSouth Primary Health Network and has a specialist interest in weight management and diabetes.
*A version of this story appeared in Diabetes New Zealand’s magazine in Winter 2017. Join today to receive your copy.
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