‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’. It’s impressed upon us from an early age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet around one in five Brits don’t have breakfast at all and one in three don’t eat it regularly. It’s often midday before people eat at all, with many being fulled by coffee in the meantime.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that the brain needs energy from food to function well. Alertness, concentration and cognitive performance all improve after eating. Much of that research has been done on school-age children to back-up the need for breakfast clubs. One in four secondary school kids don’t eat breakfast. It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.
Beyond the brain there’s also great debate about the wider health benefits of breakfast. Some studies show that eating breakfast helps people control their body weight by stabilising blood sugars, reducing cravings and setting circadian rhythms. Skipping breakfast has been associated with obesity, increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, on the other side of the coin is the growing trend for regular fasting as a means to improve blood sugar control and sensitivity to insulin and thereby reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. As usual with nutrition topics, it’s very confusing and we’ll find opposing arguments and different advice being recommended daily.
I don’t remember much about breakfast growing up but I know I ate it everyday. I do remember sprinkling sugar onto white Mother’s Pride toast (it was the 70s) and developing a love of Fruit ‘n’ Fibre in my teens. I was always hungry by break time. My husband however didn’t eat breakfast for many years. As junior doctors we had to eat breakfast with the attitude that we needed to scoff as much as we could because we didn’t know when we’d get another meal!
Being physically active has definitely changed my attitude towards breakfast. It’s no longer just a case of finding something that will fill me up until lunchtime but it’s the perfect opportunity to eat foods that will help my exercise. I can use food to help my body to repair itself from previous exercise and also to fuel the exercise I’m going to do in the day ahead. I can officially say that I LOVE breakfast, it’s probably my favourite meal of the day.
Fasted running, where you run in the morning without eating anything after around 10pm the night before, is another controversial topic. There’s some evidence that running without eating will encourage your body to burn fat and lead to faster gains in performance. There’s also some evidence that running fasted doesn’t reduce body fat, stresses the body which can lower immunity and has a negative effect on performance. I don’t tend to run fasted. Even if I’m running early and haven’t got up in time to eat and digest a good breakfast, I’ll usually have something like a handful of raisins or a quick swig of orange juice for some instant energy.
Often the barrier is finding something that you feel like eating and something that’s super quick to prepare and eat on a chaotic morning. My regular breakfast is Greek yoghurt (full fat) with a variety of toppings. We have a breakfast cupboard and it’s full of a whole range of things that you can throw on top of whatever you’re eating to make it healthier! I just mix and match every day according to what’s run out and what I feel like. It only takes a couple of minutes to put together and I know it’s nutritious, delicious and will fill me up! Here are some of the things I add to my yoghurt:
- Granola, hemp or overnight oats – soaked in oat milk or cows milk
- Berries – raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, blackberries
- Tinned peaches, pears or apricots
- Other fruits – bananas or kiwi
- Seeds – flax, sunflower, pumpkin, chia
- Nuts – almonds, brazil, pecan, macademia
The yoghurt is giving a lovely dollop of protein and fat. The nuts and seeds give it a nutrient and protein boost and the fruit is adding more vitamins and anti-oxidants. So quick, tasty and nutritious. The nuts and seeds can be pricey (I can never understand why they cost so much) but if you shop around there’s a big variety in price. It’s always worth checking the baking section because they’re often cheaper there than in the snack section. And you only need a small amount on your breakfast so they last ages. Similarly, I often use frozen, tinned or dried fruit as it’s cheaper. I do love fresh berries but boy they can be expensive. A punnet of raspberries is about four each in this house and gone in less than 20 seconds after it’s been opened.
I know so many people that eat toast – a lot. It’s their breakfast and snack staple. We hardly ever eat it. The kids don’t really like it much. If I do eat it, it’s usually at lunchtime rather than breakfast but the other day I had delicious brown sourdough with peanut butter, bananas, honey and chia seeds for breakfast. I love brunch sometimes and that’s definitely toast time – sourdough, olive oil, avocado and poached egg with a scattering of salt and chilli flakes is my ultimate brunch! That doesn’t work on a busy weekday but as a weekend treat or mid-week lunch it can’t be beaten in my eyes.
Now we have kids of our own and have realised the importance of breakfast to help them learn we’ve had to adopt a far more open mind about what is acceptable breakfast food. My daughter gets up early because she likes to spend time making a healthy breakfast. She’ll make scrambled eggs, a fruit smoothie or eat rice cakes, apples and bananas spread with peanut butter. She never eats cereals. My middle son also hates cereals and likes to have soup, cauliflower cheese, tuna wraps or whatever is left over from the night before – yes, he’ll eat curry, pasta or roast potatoes. My eldest is more traditional in his breakfast choices devouring Readybrek, three Weetabix and around a hundred pancakes if we’re frying up! There’s certainly a lot of variety and to be honest, I think they’re better going off to school with a belly full of cauliflower cheese than a bowl of high sugar cereals, even if it does seem a little odd to some!
In my eyes breakfast is essential. I’d love to know if you eat breakfast and what you’re all munching on in the mornings. Is it the same everyday? Do you have any weird breakfast choices like my son? Do you exercise on an empty stomach? Is it your favourite meal of the day or just something you have to get through before heading out for the day?
I’m no food blogger or food photographer so I’ve chosen some stock images for this post – all from Pixabay – but here’s a few of the real thing and you can see my Insta stories for more of my Active Fuel (spoiler, we bake a lot).