What did you have for breakfast this morning?
You’re not alone if you skipped it. After all, life is hectic. Perhaps you feel like you don’t have time for breakfast or you just don’t fancy eating first thing in the morning.
Looking at my own life, I’m a warrior mother, my son Elijah’s Care Package Manager; I run Elijah’s Hope and organise events such as Elijah’s First International Conference, so I’m always on the go. I’ll be the first to admit that there have been many times when self-care – even just eating breakfast – has fallen to the bottom of my to-do list.
But I’ve realised that this really isn’t OK. How can I be there for Elijah or for the Elijah’s Hope community if I don’t look after myself?
These days, I’m passionate about eating well to support my health and keep my body as strong and fit as possible. Elijah has a ketogenic diet to help minimise the number of seizures he experiences, and this has also underpinned my interest in food for good health.
Many of you know that I’m a Herbalife member; the company is currently focusing on the benefits of eating breakfast through the ‘Ideal Breakfast’ initiative, which has sparked my interest and given me plenty of food for thought (pun intended). The more I learn, the more I’m realising how important breakfast is to our health and well-being.
There’s the famous quote by Adelle Davis, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” that best seems to sum up the approach we should all be taking to our daily meals.
But how many of us really follow this advice? What did you have for breakfast?
Too busy for breakfast?
Up and down the country, weekday mornings are a fraught time in UK households. Adults head out for the morning commute, parents and children frantically juggle the school run, carers arrive, shifts change… it’s so easy to skip breakfast.
In 2015, oat producers, Flahavan’s, surveyed 2,000 adults about their breakfast habits. In some regions, up to 50% of adults admitted that they can’t or don’t make time for breakfast (an increase from 20% of adults in 2012).
In a survey of 5,000 adults, BBC’s Good Food magazine found that 42% of people aged 18 to 24 regularly forget to have breakfast, the meal that many dub the ‘most important meal of the day’.
Herbalife’s own figures show 48% of people skip breakfast, while 47% of those who do have breakfast opt for something sugar-based.
The dangers of an unhealthy breakfast or skipping breakfast altogether
Is it really a problem to go without breakfast?
It’s a question that’s hotly debated. A quick search on the US National Library of Medicine website, PubMed.gov, which is a helpful repository of research, finds 437 different studies that address the effects of skipping breakfast in some way.
Some of the research supports the belief that a nutritious breakfast is essential to a healthy lifestyle. See:
- Breakfast skipping is associated with differences in meal patterns, macronutrient intakes and overweight among pre-school children.
- The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006.
- Symposium overview: Do we all eat breakfast and is it important?
Conclusions from studies such as these suggest that when people skip breakfast or choose a sugar-based start to the day, the negative health consequences can include:
- Low energy
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels resulting in spikes of hungry then intense feelings of hunger throughout the day
- Poor concentration
- Digestive problems
- Skin problems
- Mood swings
- Low mood
- Muscle breakdown
- Insulin resistance
In addition, research from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2013 found that 27% of men who skip breakfast increase their chances of suffering from heart disease.
However, other nutritional experts and researchers argue that although people who eat breakfast are likely to be healthier, it isn’t necessarily the breakfast itself that causes this positive difference. Instead, it could be that people who eat breakfast tend to be more health conscious overall and are more likely to build time into their schedule for prioritising food and wellbeing.
A study from the University of Helsinki looked at data for 5,500 teenage boys and girls and their parents in Finland, and found that those who skipped breakfast were less concerned about their health than their breakfast eating counterparts and were far more likely to partake in harmful behaviours such as drinking, smoking, drug taking and infrequent exercise.
Children and breakfast
In 2016, YouGov conducted a survey of teachers about the breakfast habits of their pupils on behalf of breakfast manufacturer Kellogg’s. This study found that 50% of teachers said some pupils arrive at school hungry at least three or four times a week. Three percent of the respondents had given children money for food, while 30% admitted that they often bring food into school to give to pupils who haven’t had breakfast. Two-thirds of the teachers said that many children regularly eat nothing until lunchtime.
The teachers reported that many of their pupils were lethargic – often falling asleep in class – and struggling to concentrate, and they linked these issues directly with not eating before school.
A different study by the British Nutrition Foundation surveyed 8,800 school children from across the UK and found that 24% of secondary school children go without breakfast. This impacts on the children’s energy levels and participation in school life and life outside of school.
Just as worryingly, 66% of primary school children and 65% of secondary school children drink less than six drinks a day, leaving them dehydrated and low on energy, experiencing headaches and constantly tired. This is a reminder that it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day, including at breakfast.
The benefits of breakfast
So, what did you have for breakfast this morning? Although I don’t claim to be a nutritional expert, I am firmly in the pro-breakfast camp.
The word ‘breakfast’ comes from the late middle English to ‘break fast’, literally describing its role as the meal where you end your overnight fast and refuel for the day ahead.
Many of the 437 studies mentioned above show that eating breakfast has the following benefits:
- It provides you with energy
- It restores your body’s glucose levels, helping your brain to function and improving your memory and concentration levels
- It can give you important nutrients such as calcium, iron, B vitamins, protein and fibre
- It can discourage you from reaching for quick-fix high sugar snacks later in the day
- Eating breakfast is more likely to keep you in your ideal weight range
- It can lift your mood and lower your stress levels
- It has been linked to higher grades, attainment and better behaviour in school children
- It has been shown to reduce obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes
- Adopting healthy habits can reduce the need for NHS services and medical intervention over a person’s lifespan
But what makes an ‘ideal’ breakfast? Nutritionists recommend that breakfast should be eaten within two hours of waking and provide calories in the range of 20-35% of your guideline daily allowance (GDA).
In terms of what you eat, your breakfast should:
- Provide your body with essential nutrients
- Supply your body with water
- Balance your energy and blood sugar levels
- Retain your lean muscle mass
EatingWell recommends that we all reach for whole grains containing at least 5 grams of fibre and less than 6 grams of sugar per serving. We should look for lean sources of protein too as this helps you to feel fuller for longer than carbs of fat. This means eating eggs, tofu, peanut butter, fish or lean meats for breakfast. Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese can be great for breakfast too.
Nutritionist, Ruth Frechman, author of The food is my friend diet, says our breakfast ‘plate’ should consist of 25% protein, 25% carbohydrates and 50% fruit and/or vegetables. She reiterates many of the recommendations above about what to eat.
I love some of the healthy breakfast ideas in this article on Greatist and Pinterest is always a great source of inspiration. Also, because I’m often on the go from early in the morning, I keep a supply of Herbalife Products to hand as the macro-nutrients in these have been specially formulated to provide protein, vitamins A, E & C, calcium and potassium, among others.
Starting as I mean to go on
For me, breakfast is about starting the day as I mean to go on and giving my body the fuel and nutrition it needs to thrive. Maybe it helps that I love my food – I can’t imagine skipping breakfast! – but I also think it’s important to practice healthy habits and breakfast seems like as good a place as any to start.
Are you a breakfast skipper or do you agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re interested in finding out more about the ideal breakfast, pop over to my Fabulously Healthy Facebook page where I’ll be sharing lots of information and ideas on how you can make having breakfast one of the first things you do or contact me by either phone or email: kaddy@elijahs-hope or mobile: 07577451931
Disclosure: This is a promotional post with the funds raised from my relationship with Herbalife being wholly used to support Elijah's Hope CIC.