Believe it or not, the topic of breakfast can really divide a room as I discovered in a recent workshop I ran at a local comprehensive school.
When asking a room of students how many of them had eaten breakfast that day I was surprised to discover that only half of the 30 pupils had eaten anything that morning. Interestingly, a large proportion of those who hadn’t had breakfast were girls.
Of course, this poll was far from statistically significant, yet a recent study suggests this picture is echoed all over the world. The research was carried out by The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in February 2019 and was comprised of 286,804 children and adolescents living in 33 countries. The study found that between 10% and 30% of those questioned skipped breakfast regularly, with an escalating trend seen in adolescents, and more so, in girls.
When I asked this group their reasons for skipping breakfast their replies ranged from not having enough time to feeling sick first thing in the morning and just not wanting it. Yet, surprisingly when I asked the same group of students if breakfast was important, every student put their hands up and said yes!
So, the message is out there that breakfast is an extremely important meal of the day. In my view, it’s essential to a healthy balanced lifestyle and I’m hopeful that my blogs and workshops will help promote this to others.
Let’s start with why breakfast is so important. Breakfast provides the brain and body with fuel after is has fasted overnight. Without breakfast, you’re starting the day running on empty. It’s like trying to get your car to work without any petrol. Apart from providing us with the energy, we need to start and continue our day, breakfast is a great time to grab those essential vitamins and minerals we need to keep the health of our minds and bodies stable.
Vitamins such as calcium, Vitamin B, fibres and iron can all be integrated into your breakfast and research has shown, if these are missed at breakfast, that the body has a real tough time making up for this loss throughout the day. For teenagers, this is even more important. They have a greater need for these essential nutrients due to the demands of puberty and extreme growth spurts. Calcium, protein and iron are all critically essential in their diets.
There have been lots of studies over the years that have associated eating breakfast with good health. As well as improving memory and concentration, eating a healthy breakfast can decrease levels of bad LDL cholesterol. This can help to lower your chances of becoming overweight and getting illnesses related to obesity such as diabetes and heart disease.
This was also summarised in the NICE study which found that skipping breakfast was related to unhealthier blood pressure levels, metabolic rates, lipid profiles and insulin-resistance. Predictably, the research highlighted that those who tended to skip breakfast had a lower quality dietary intake overall consuming higher levels of unhealthy snacks. In turn, it was found that those individuals who gave breakfast a miss, also weighed significantly more (NICE).
The benefits of a GOOD breakfast do not stop there - and I emphasise the importance of good which we will delve into further. It gives you the energy you need to focus on tasks throughout the day and is known to benefit learning and aid concentration. For us all, this is highly important but for children in school, this is essential. A nutritious, well-balanced breakfast helps to keep glucose levels stable and stop those hunger pangs before lunch which studies have proven will increase the likelihood of making bad food choices throughout the day. It also improves fatigue and keeps us alert and focused and ready to tackle the day ahead.
Breakfast should provide between 20% and 25% of your daily nutritional requirements, and it’s not just about having any old breakfast. As mentioned previously, it’s about having a healthy breakfast. Breakfast consisting of all the major food groups will give an excellent balanced start to the day (source BDA).
Wholegrain cereals are an excellent source of fibre, iron, vitamins and minerals. Porridge releases energy at a steady pace, keeping your glucose levels stable and preventing hunger. However please check your cereal labels. Many people seem to think “cereal = healthy”. The truth is very different. Many cereals aimed specifically at children are jam-packed full of sugar and can lead to your children eating more than their daily allocated allowance of sugar before they have even got dressed in the morning.
An average bowl of Coco Pops or Cheerio's, for example, can have up to a whopping great 8 teaspoons per bowl. An alternative, healthy way of naturally sweetening up your cereal is with fresh fruit or perhaps adding some nuts or seeds. such as linseed or cacoa powder. These are a great source of vitamins and fibre and eaten at breakfast is a perfect opportunity to boost your 5-a-day intake.
Eggs are also a fantastic start to your day. They are one of the most nutrient-dense foods around, with a wide range of vitamins and minerals including vitamin D (which you need for healthy bones and teeth, and contributes to a happy mood), choline (important for improving your brain and memory), folate (essential if you're pregnant), calcium (for strong bones and teeth), iron and selenium (an antioxidant that can protect the body from illnesses including heart disease and cancer) (source BDA). What’s more, they’re cheap and offer versatility at breakfast time.
Great strides have been made in promoting the importance of children having breakfast and the introduction of breakfast clubs in primary schools in Wales has had a huge positive influence. Providing free breakfast in primary schools is intended to promote the best possible start to the day for the youngest children and deter the habit of skipping breakfast at the earliest possible age. The breakfasts provided by the schools are balanced and cover many of the essential food groups and I have included the link here if you’d like to read more; beta.gov.wales/free-breakfast-primary-schools
I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate and work with many other health enthusiasts over the years and I am excited to introduce you to a few of them over these upcoming blogs.
Meet Sam. She’s the founder and creator of the website and blog Cooking for Sanity and has a passion for creating nutritious meals with wholesome ingredients.
She also believes in the positive influence of good food and empowering individuals to make healthy choices. Check out her blogs for some inspiring creations and watch this space for her guest blog which will be called ‘Breakfast Outside the Box’.
In the meantime, here are just a few of Sam’s creative and delicious recipes for you to try using cacao powder to sweeten up those dishes.