“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” said every preachy parent ever. It pains us to say, but maybe they were right. As the first meal of the day, breakfast gives your body a boost of energy and nutrients after an overnight fast.
Breakfast replenishes the stores of energy and nutrients in your body and sets the tone for other food choices later in the day, says registered dietician and ADSA spokesperson, Kelly Scholtz. “Very simply, people who skip breakfast are missing an opportunity to consume essential nutrients and we do not always make up this nutrient gap later in the day.”
But how exactly does it differ from other mealtimes?
Skipping breakfast is common. But in every other way, breakfast should be seen as a meal just like lunch or dinner, says Scholtz. And it is in no way more important than other meals of the day as no single meal can provide everything a person needs to be healthy, Scholtz clarifies.
What is important, is to make sure you get a good balance of nutrients according to your requirements, she says, and breakfast as necessary to help you achieve that. “Since it is often skipped, it makes sense to encourage some more effort around breakfast.”
Nutrition advice around breakfast is the same as for all other meals, says Scholtz. Always make sure that:
- It is all about the food groups. Be sure to include at least one, two or more. Eat a variety of foods over time.
- Your starches should have a low to moderate glycaemic index (GI) and should be eaten in combination with other foods, including fruit, veg, eggs, legumes, milk, cottage cheese or yoghurt.
- Adding protein to breakfast is always a good idea. Aim for about 7g as a minimum. This is easy to achieve with one egg or a combination of milk, cottage cheese or yoghurt, or 1 tablespoon peanut butter with a starchy food.
- Managing portions of starchy foods and combining starchy foods with other food groups helps to manage blood glucose levels.
- Plan. Buy food according to a meal plan that suits your budget.
- Aim to eat together as a family. If you do not have time for this, plan foods in a form that is convenient, like a sandwich and fruit on the go.
The power of GI
Did you know that low GI breakfasts may help prevent overeating? Apart from the benefit in eating breakfast to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, ensuring that your breakfast choice has a low glycaemic index (GI) adds further benefits.
This is according to celebrity dietician Andrea du Plessis who explains that the glycaemic index (GI) ranks foods on the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.
Foods with a high index are rapidly digested and result in high fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
“Foods with a low glycaemic index produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels and are considered more suitable for diabetics. Firstly, it is well known that eating low-GI foods encourages sustained release of energy, which supports management of blood glucose levels.”
In fact, eating a low GI breakfast may help prevent a rapid increase in blood sugar throughout the morning and even after the next meal of the day, she says. Low GI breakfast options can also help overeating, therefore assisting in weight management.
“Low GI breakfast foods also can increase feelings of satiety and fullness and may reduce the tendency of overeating throughout the day.”
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, showed that participants who ate a breakfast containing whole almonds experienced longer feelings of fullness and had lower blood glucose concentrations after breakfast and lunch, compared to those who did not have a low-glycaemic breakfast.
Quick and easy breakfast ideas
And if you are a chronic skipper, Scholtz shares some quick and easy breakfast tips:
- A slice of high-fibre toast with peanut butter. If you have no time for toast, make a peanut butter sandwich and keep it in an airtight container to grab in the morning on your way out.
- A banana or handful of berries with some yoghurt.
- An apple and a handful of nuts, plus milk in a takeaway coffee.
- Overnight oats: Soak ½ cup rolled oats in ½ cup water or milk. Add chopped fruit, yoghurt, a drizzle of honey and some seeds or nuts.
- A low-carb vanilla protein powder stirred into plain yoghurt with a sliced banana or handful of berries.
- Make a tray of egg muffins on a Sunday night. Include lots of vegetables and maybe some low-fat feta cheese. In the morning you can warm up one or two in the microwave for a few seconds.
- Another weekend project: Instead of grabbing a pastry at a coffee shop, bake your own high fibre bran muffins with added nuts and grated carrot – reduce the sugar slightly in the recipe and rather add some extra dried fruit for sweetness. To increase protein for this meal, add a serving of yoghurt or you can rely on the protein in the milk of your takeaway latte or cappuccino – ask for fat-free milk if you can.
- Although avoiding sugary cereals is best, there is nothing wrong with including a bowl of high-fibre cereal in your morning routine. Weet-bix or high-fibre bran with milk is still a nutritious option, even if it means including a small amount of added sugar. Adding a few berries or other chopped fruit to cereal is a way to increase overall phytonutrient intake.