The health benefits of eating breakfast
According to various large-scale studies, breakfast can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes type 2 and high blood pressure, and can improve brain function in the mornings – probably because it helps regulate the release of insulin and stabilises blood sugars.
Does it matter what time you have your breakfast? Apparently not – the few studies that have researched this find that the best time is when you feel hungry – whether that's 7a.m. or 11 a.m.
Breakfast and your weight
There's a long-held theory that eating breakfast can help with weight control. One study found that young people who eat a high-protein breakfast have reduced cravings for sweets later in the day; another found people who eat breakfast burn more calories throughout the day than people who skip breakfast; and the long-term USA Nurses Study finds that women who eat breakfast are likely to be slimmer than those who don't.
But confusingly, other studies disagree! For example, Cornell University in the USA finds that omitting breakfast is a good way to lose weight, and that the popular idea that skipping breakfast will cause you to eat more calories for the rest of the day is a myth. Participants in their study ate about 145 calories more at lunchtime on days when they had no breakfast, but still saved about 450 calories a day overall, and lost weight.
My opinion? Most of us seem to benefit from eating breakfast. But if the scales refuse to budge and you need to lose weight – try skipping for a while and see if you lose more easily. BUT skipping is not for anyone who's diabetic or pregnant.
Related: Strange weight loss tips that might just work
What foods should you choose for the healthiest breakfast?
What you choose to eat can make a big difference to how well your body responds to breakfast.
The typical modern choice of a bowl of packet cereal or a slice of toast is perhaps the least sensible choice of all. These convenience breakfasts are high in carbohydrate and low in protein – the reverse of what researchers now believe is the ideal.
The best breakfast for long-term appetite control, blood sugar and insulin stability and success with weight loss is high in protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, fish or lean meat.
Protein works because it's digested and absorbed into your bloodstream much less quickly than is carbohydrate. It also suppresses the action of ghrelin – the 'hunger hormone' and regulates dopamine, a brain chemical linked to obesity.
A good breakfast will also contain some fat – including 'good' fats found in, for example, nuts, seeds, plant oils and oily fish – which is brilliant at helping you to feel full; and moderate amounts of carbohydrate from whole grains and/or fruit – to provide fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Related: Read more about the health benefits of 'good fat'
Go for whole fruit, not juice – juice is little better than refined sugar as far as your blood sugar control goes.
Did you know?
Wholemilk and yoghurt are good breakfast foods as they contain protein, carbs (in the form of milk sugars) and fat, including medium-chain fats, types of saturated fat which have several health benefits including helping to slow down the ageing process, enhancing insulin sensitivity and promoting weight loss, scientists have found.
Five healthy breakfast ideas
- Full fat natural yoghurt, nuts, seeds, berries and a small amount of low-sugar muesli.
- Smoothie made with yoghurt or wholemilk and a mix of veg/fruit with a tablespoon of medium-chain fat-rich coconut oil.
- Scrambled eggs on rye bread with smoked salmon; small orange.
- Porridge made with whole milk, topped with chopped apple and unsalted chopped nuts such as Brazils, almonds and pistachios.
- Poached eggs on lightly toasted wholegrain bread with a little butter; one kiwifruit.
Related: Visit our breakfast recipe section for delicious healthy breakfast ideas