Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Not so, according to a recent article in The Guardian which suggested it was a ‘food myth based purely on bad science and marketing.’ I disagree! After an overnight fast – which for some people can be 12 hours or more – you are presented with an opportunity; eat the right breakfast and set yourself up for the rest of the day or get it wrong and you may find yourself with yo-yoing blood sugar levels, leading to over-eating, poor meal choices and dips in energy, concentration and mood.
So how do you set yourself up for a good day and what is the right breakfast to eat? Well, as always, there’s no simple answer! It’s different for everyone and it can take a bit of time and experimentation to establish. And then it can change! Prior to having children, I felt satisfied with a bowl of home-made muesli and fresh berries. Since that time, give me a bowl of muesli and I will be famished by 10am!
All sorts of things can affect your nutritional needs at breakfast time including tiredness, stress, changes to digestion and exercise. Furthermore, some of you may have found that cancer treatments and medication change what your body needs, perhaps by changing your appetite or making you more sensitive to certain foods.
The good news is that while your breakfast landscape may be ever changing, there are some principles of a ‘healthy’ breakfast that remain constant:
- A healthy breakfast will always contain a good amount of protein. Protein rich foods (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, nuts & seeds) have a low glycaemic index, which means they release their sugars slowly into your blood, leaving you fuller for longer. They also help to avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which can cause you to eat more and choose the wrong type of food.
- A healthy breakfast will also include some veggies or low sugar fruit and for most, a little fat may work well, too.
- Finally, it is best to eat it within 1-2 hours of waking as this will help to stabilise your blood sugar. If this isn’t possible for you, just eat as soon as you feel able.
For inspiration, we decided to share with you, the favourite breakfasts of our Nutritional Therapists here at Penny Brohn UK. Below, Victoria, Helen, Wendy, El, Carol and I all share our secrets!
Victoria has a busier schedule then anyone I know and yet she still finds time to fill her boots in the morning! And, in true Victoria style, breakfast has to include seaweed! Victoria feels good on porridge made with a combination of millet, quinoa and amaranth flakes. To this, she adds ground almonds, 3 tsp of sea weed condiment (Victoria uses Seagreens), chopped nuts and seeds and koko coconut milk. After that, she eats a boiled egg on toast!
Helen is a recently diagnosed coeliac, and as such, is currently exploring a very new world. She has decided to experiment with an entirely grain free diet which appears to be suiting her well. Over the last few days, she has eaten the following breakfasts: a vegetable and goats cheese omelette; mashed banana with nuts, seeds and Co-Yo coconut yogurt; a shiitake mushroom & tomato omelette with half an avocado. While away on a high energy walking weekend, she had fruit and yogurt, followed by scrambled egg, bacon, tomato and mushrooms.
Wendy, our Lead Nutritional Therapist, is a big fan of mindful eating; she chews incredibly well, while gazing through the back window out on to the birds and wildlife! On working days, her staple breakfasts is a home-made muesli with 3 tbsp of nuts and seeds. She will add a very small portion of dried fruit and then some low sugar fresh fruit, such as blueberries. Wendy tops her muesli with ½ tsp spirulina, oat or soya milk and full fat yoghurt. Importantly, she leaves it to soak overnight, so that the nuts are more easily digested. This is a super tip for anyone wanting to eat muesli but feeling their digestion is not up to par. At weekends, Wendy enjoys more of a treat breakfast consisting of smoked salmon with poached or scrambled egg (containing onions, sea salt, black pepper, turmeric, parsley) topped with rocket or watercress. She is also partial to black pudding and bacon!
Now, for Elena. We like to think of El as our more ‘way-out’ Nutritional Therapist and a lover of all things animal. El’s favourite breakfast is Black pudding (or some high quality sausages) with masses of quickly boiled black kale (cabbage when kale is not available), leeks and wakame, dressed in about 50g of butter.
Carol is our resident vegetarian. She also seems to eat a lot less than the rest of us! Carol finds she feels well on a slice of wholemeal toast with a poached egg or two, half an avocado and a little pesto.
As for me, having found muesli increasing dissatisfying and difficult to digest (breakfasting with a 3 year old is not the most relaxing experience and I am prone to not chewing!), I am experimenting with the following: A smoothie (recipe below) followed by 1-2 soft boiled eggs and/or a piece of rye sourdough toast. This breakfast gives me a big hit of easy to digest nutrients first thing in the morning which is great as I often don’t have the opportunity to eat a well-rounded lunch.
So there you have it! Between us, we have quite a mix of breakfasts! In addition to trying any of the above, you could also experiment with the suggestions, below.
For a lighter breakfast, for example where hunger is lacking or where digestion is compromised, try one of the following:
Blueberry Chia pudding (soak 2 tbsp chia seeds in almond or coconut milk overnight). Add ½ tsp raw honey if you need to sweeten and/or pure vanilla powder (e.g. ndali). Top with blueberries; For a more filling breakfast, double the quantity of chia seeds and/or add coconut flakes and chopped nuts.
Fresh berries with yoghurt or cinnamon nut cream; 2 handfuls of fresh berries with cinnamon nut cream – blend nuts such as cashew, brazil or almonds with water and cinnamon in a high powered blender to create a runny cream. Alternatively, use full fat yoghurt (Coyo yoghurt if you are dairy free)
Berry smoothie; here is my recipe for low sugar, high protein smoothie: ½ avocado, 2 handfuls of frozen berries (usually raspberries and blackberries), 6-8 brazil nuts, 1 tbsp almond nut butter, 1 tsp raw cacao powder, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 dessertspoon hemp oil., a handful of green leaves, 1/3 of a banana. I blend it with unsweetened almond milk. Occasionally, I had a date or a ¼ tsp raw honey for sweetness.
If you feel best with a starchy breakfast, try one of the following:
Granola or muesli; remember to soak overnight to make more digestible; keep sugary dried fruit content to a minimum and top with fresh berries for extra nutrients. Experiment with different milks and yoghurts to see what suits you best.
Porridge; experiment with different grains, like Victoria does. Also, try adding cinnamon, vanilla and nut creams to produce more satisfying tastes and textures. Like muesli, porridge can be topped with fresh berries.
For a super high protein, low carbohydrate breakfast, try one of the following:
- El’s sausage and kale combination or One of Helen’s creative omelettes
- Poached eggs with masses of wilted greens, such as swiss chard and a little sea salt and black pepper
- Tinned sardines, roasted tomatoes, one slice of wholemeal toast
- A bowl of left over Bolognese (slow cooked to make it super digestible and made with lots of vegetables)
So, to summarise, whatever you decide to eat for breakfast, try to apply the principles below to create a super start to your day:
- Always include a good handful of protein rich food with your breakfast
- Try to include either some veggies or low sugar fruits, such as berries
- Experiment with different breakfasts and see what seems to sustain you for the longest
- Eat mindfully. Choose a calm, pleasant area to eat and chew slowly
- Try to eat within 1-2 hours of waking
- If you have compromised digestion, soak mueslis or nuts/seeds before eating them
- Remember we are all different, there is no one right way to eat in the mornings.