What is the best breakfast?

Judith Wills / 02 May 2014

What is the best breakfast to start the day with? Weight loss blogger Judith Wills considers the conflicting research, and wonders whether it really is the most important meal of the day or not.

What did you have for breakfast today? The full monty fry-up? A small bowl of low-sugar cereal with skimmed milk? Smoked salmon and quails eggs with French toast? A health smoothie as recommended by Vogue style guru Calgary Avansino, containing no less than 20 mostly obscure ingredients (“I make it every morning for my family”). Or like me, did you have some natural full-fat bio yogurt with mixed berries, nuts and seeds – my regular weekday choice?

Or did you go without, perhaps? A quarter of us skip breakfast at least some of the time.

Having more or less got over the labyrinthitis I told you about – which causes horrible bouts of severe dizziness – my head is spinning for a different reason now, as I try to digest not only my breakfast but the new wave of conflicting advice about whether or not breakfast is important for health, for dieters or for weight control.

I confess that for many years I never ate breakfast. Thinking back, I can remember even in my early twenties, getting up, dashing to get ready and going off to work without a thought of anything other than a cup of tea. I'd have a cheese roll from the work trolley mid-morning, a stodgy lunch in the cafe and my evening meal would often be another cheese roll in the pub after work, an omelette and chips at the iconic Golden Egg cafe in Fleet Street, or whatever I could find at home in my West Kensington bedsit – usually, very little.

You can see what a nutritious, balanced diet I had. Over the years it got a lot better but I still didn't eat breakfast – in fact only started a decade or so ago because a) Husband nagged me, b) most research at the time said it was an important meal for body energy, brain power and could help one eat less at lunchtime and c) I have the luxury of no longer having to commute or do school runs or rush to the office upstairs most mornings, so breakfast is a nice thing to do, while reading the papers. Civilised!

But in truth when I forsook breakfast and ate erratically, I was quite skinny, I was quite fit and healthy, my brain was in reasonable working order and no dreadful consequences befell me. Since I've started eating it every day, I am no longer skinny and have to try hard to keep my weight down. Of course, the change is not all down to breakfast – as we age our metabolism slows down, I'm doing much less 'natural' exercise (i.e. exercise in everyday living rather than a set routine) than I used to, far less. And my meals are indeed regular and probably enjoyed too much.

Meanwhile, the researchers and experts are still arguing furiously about breakfast pros and cons. A very recent study of women over 12 weeks each given the same number of calories a day, but at different times of day, found that those who had most calories for breakfast rather than in the evening lost more weight and an extra 1.8 inches off their waists. I wish!

Researchers at Imperial College London have found that breakfast-skippers are more likely to eat junk food. But another study from well-respected Dr Susan Jebb found that just a small breakfast of 300 calories was enough to control the amount guinea pigs ate for lunch and throughout the day. And as for health – a study of males concluded those who missed breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart disease than those who didn't. (However another study finds men who have large late evening meals have a 55% higher risk of heart disease – you see why my head is spinning.)

The one thing most researchers more or less agree on is that when you do eat breakfast, you should make sure it contains the right type of food. This being – a good amount of protein, some fat, with a little carb. Such a breakfast appears to reduce hunger pangs throughout the morning as well as the amount of calories we eat for lunch. So maybe it's time to ditch the cornflakes with skimmed milk – a high-carb, low-protein start to the day. Ideal higher-protein breakfasts include eggs either boiled, poached or fried in a little groundnut or light olive oil; smoked salmon and other fish, hard cheese, even meat (though salty types such as bacon and ham should be eaten in moderation, and try not to eat meat later in the day as well) – and nuts and seeds – these being an ideally packaged combination of protein and fat and with no need to cook! I'm doing something right at breakfast time at last. I just wish it were helping me to lose weight but I'm still not 100% convinced on that score, at least not for me. So the head-spinning continues...

Ate last night:

A fish stew that wasn't

I found lots of odds and ends of fish in the freezer (it's fine to freeze fresh fish if you do so on the day you buy it, by the way) and was going to make a bouillabaisse, but then I couldn't be bothered, so I made a sort of fish soup without the liquid and we both agreed it was an excellent dinner, ideal for slimmers , as we had just a tiny tad of toasted ciabatta with it, and a large green salad.

I just cooked pieces of hake and monkfish fillet for five minutes or so (they were quite thick) in a little olive oil first, then removed them from the pan to keep warm. I added some very large shell-on prawns to the pan with lots of finely-chopped garlic and chilli (also from the freezer) and cooked them through, then added some smaller prawns, some ready-frozen scallops, lots of chopped parsley and lemon juice, some black pepper, a little salt, and a knob of butter. I stirred that around for a minute or two then returned the big fish to the pan for a minute, and served with more fresh herbs on top.

Read Judith's previous blog entries.

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