Is the expression “to breakfast like a king” still relevant today?
For many years now, the evidence and information we have had around eating breakfast points to its importance. Recently, however, there have been dietary trends such as ‘the 2-meal day’ suggesting we should actually skip breakfast.
Assuming you have not raided the fridge at all hours of the night, your morning ‘meal’ takes place after many hours of sleep. Therefore, breakfast is called this as it is literally the act of ‘breaking your fast.’
In this article, we therefore will refer to a meal eaten within two hours of waking up as breakfast.
So, should we eat breakfast?
Yes. Having a meal within two hours of waking can replace nutrients and energy that your body used during the night for repairing itself. If you are working, studying, or exercising in the morning it is particularly important to have breakfast because your body needs fuel for these activities.
Research shows having breakfast does not protect against weight gain, however, those of us who regularly eat breakfast have lower BMI (body mass index) and snack on less high-energy unhealthy foods later in the day. Studies also reveal that people who regularly eat breakfast have diets of higher nutritional quality and rate their health higher than those who do not.
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
No. Breakfast is no more important than other meals, and dietary intake over the day should be considered rather than as individual meals. Eating regular meals improves glycaemic control, decreases food cravings and is associated with reduced weight gain.
What are the best breakfast options?
Traditional Western diets promote breakfast options to be toast, cereals, or smoothies. This is likely due to the convenient nature of these foods for the large portion of the population who are pressed for time in the morning. But a range of foods could make up a breakfast.
The general guideline, though, is that breakfast should provide 20-25% of our daily energy intake.
A healthy breakfast would contain a combination of the food groups  :
Wholegrain bread, brown rice, cereals and pasta all provide B vitamins, energy, iron and fibre. Potatoes can also be substituted as a starchy carbohydrate for providing long-lasting energy stores.
Fruit and vegetables
Reaching our daily recommendations for five servings of fruit and vegetables is easier if we include some of these at breakfast. Fruit on cereal, on its own, or in smoothies is a great way to start the day. Vegetables such as spinach can be added to smoothies, while mushrooms or tomatoes are great on toast, and lots of different vegetables can be added to omelets or scrambled eggs.
Milk and dairy foods
These provide calcium and protein. Milk, milk alternatives or yoghurt can be enjoyed with cereals or in smoothies. Different milks can also be enjoyed in coffee or tea. If using alternative milk, ensure it’s fortified with calcium to reach your recommended daily needs for this important mineral.
Meat, fish, eggs, legumes and tofu
All of these are great sources of protein but are not essential at breakfast time. If you have dairy or non-dairy milk at breakfast it is optional to have one of these foods as a source of protein too. Meats such as bacon and sausages should be only an occasional breakfast food because they contain a large amount of saturated fat and can be high in salt.
Having fluid at breakfast is important to replenish fluids after sleeping. Water, milk, tea, or coffee are all options that contribute to our daily fluid intake. If you are wanting to lose weight, beware of the large flat white coffee or sugary fruit juice that can contain a high sugar content.
A quick note on cereals
Some cereals contain high amounts of sugar and sodium. As a guideline you should choose a cereal that has less than 10g of sugar per 100g and if it contains dried fruit it should be less than 15g of sugar per 100g.
Remember to check the sodium content because this is often added as a preservative or a flavour enhancer. Aim for a sodium content of below 300mg per 100g.
Breakfast doesn’t always have to be something like toast or cereal
Here are some examples of common breakfasts from around the world:
- congee (a hot rice porridge) or dim sums are commonly eaten in China
- curry and roti or rice is a regular breakfast in Indian culture
- miso soup with rice, fish and pickled vegetables is often eaten for breakfast in Japan
- open-faced sandwiches with a protein source, salad, and cheese is enjoyed frequently in Sweden
If you struggle to fit in breakfast in the morning, opt for convenient options such as fruit on the go with toast or a smoothie. Keeping cereal at work can reduce the pressure of getting out the door in the morning.
Eat what suits you for breakfast, and remember that a healthy breakfast comes in a wide variety of forms and does not have to be traditional toast or cereal.
1. British Dietetic Association. Healthy Breakfast. 2016 – [cited on the 23rd of November 2017]. PEN Database.
2. National Obesity Observatory. Does skipping breakfast help with weight loss? 2011 – [cited on the 23rd of November 2017]. Solutions for Public Health. Available from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160805123159/http://www.noo.org.uk/uploads/doc/vid_12928_Eating-breakfast.PDF