May 23rd 2018
How healthy are our breakfasts?
October 3rd 2017 / 0 comment
Looking for a nutritious breakfast? From porridge to smoothies and Leon salmon pots, we asked a Registered Nutritionist to weigh up the pros and cons of our go-to breakfasts and provide his expert tweaks
When it comes to breakfast, our morning menus vary widely across the GTG team. Each of us has our go-to that we return to over and over again, but how healthy are our habits? As a new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, reveals it really could be the most important meal of the day as skipping breakfast may have an impact on heart health, we asked Registered Nutritionist Rob Hobson (AFN) to cast his expert eye over our favourites and give us some tips on making them both more filling and flavoursome.
Judy Johnson, Digital Editor
Almond and raisin granola with Greek yogurt, blueberries and raspberries. Drink - peppermint tea or water
“Though I won’t necessarily have this every day, I would if I could as it’s my favourite breakfast; I crave something refreshing in the mornings and the combination of fresh berries, cold yoghurt and nutty granola (Sainsbury's own 'no added sugar' version) hits the spot. I’ve always loved muesli and cereal but know it’s not the healthiest option, so I’m hoping this more natural version is a little better for me; it certainly fills me up more than boxed cereal would.
"That said, if I were eating out for breakfast I would always go for scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and wholemeal toast! I also, for some reason, can’t drink tea in the mornings - my first proper cuppa is always at around 3pm. I prefer instead to have a calming mint tea and/or a tall glass of water to rehydrate me after a good night’s sleep.”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “Granola is a good source of fibre and the nuts included contain minerals such as magnesium and iron. Berries are great and contain a good source of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body and is required for healthy skin. Yoghurt provides calcium, which is very important for maintaining healthy bones throughout life. I love eggs for breakfast, they are my champion breakfast food as they contain nearly every essential vitamin and mineral including a little vitamin D, which is hard to find in food. Peppermint tea is a great way to hydrate and can help with bloating after meals.”
The not-so-healthy: “Watch out for the sugar content of your granola. Some of them are pretty high with the addition of dried fruit and honey. Watch your portion size as well! I’m not sure what yoghurt you are using, but full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries and granola can soon add up in terms of the amount of energy they supply.”
My recommendations: “This breakfast sounds great, but just watch your portion sizes and opt for a granola with less sugar. You could replicate the ‘going out’ breakfast with very little effort using boiled eggs and smoked salmon, which you could even pack and take to work. It’s high protein, nutritious and rich in omega 3.”
Ayesha Muttucumaru, Senior Features Writer
Jordan’s Nature Friendly Chunky Traditional Porridge with semi-skimmed milk and a teaspoon of sugar
“I used to be a morning person. I really did, but as I’ve gotten older, not so much. I find the early hours a bit of a struggle to get through and due to lack of sleep and my insatiable sweet tooth, I seek comfort in a bowl of warm and creamy porridge sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar and (in the interests of full disclosure) a teaspoon of Nutella more often than not too. There’s something about the texture, warmth and taste that helps calm my early morning nerves and ease me into day mode. It also doesn’t take an age to prepare either. However, it’s proven to be a habit that I’ve found particularly hard to move away from throughout the years, despite the fact that I’ve become less hungry in the mornings as I’ve gotten older. With my evolving appetite and lifestyle demands now more of a priority, (differing greatly in my thirties to when I was in my teens), I’m trying to find less sugar-laden, (I’m a bit of a slave to my cravings), energy-boosting ways to start my day that are more interesting and equally as filling - without compromising on flavour.”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “Oats are rich in fibre and when teamed with milk, provide a source of protein and fat to help keep you full through to your next meal. Oats are also rich in beta-glucans that have been proven to be beneficial for heart health. They are also rich in thiamin and magnesium that help to convert food into energy within the body and also iron, which is essential for red blood cell production and warding off tiredness and fatigue.”
The not-so-healthy: “I don’t need to tell you that white sugar isn’t great. The guidance is no more than 6 tsp per day so 1 tsp is not a big deal. However, if you have a sweet tooth, this may quickly add up throughout the day if you’re eating other foods high in sugar.”
My recommendations: “While I always recommend eating three square meals daily, I don’t conform to set mealtimes. I also have trouble sleeping and the last thing I feel like doing when I get up is eating and prefer saving coffee until mid-morning. If you’re not a morning person, then there’s nothing wrong with eating breakfast a while after you get up but don’t let yourself get hungry to the point to where you’re scrabbling around for quick fix snacks, which can be a disaster if you have a sweet tooth. Always make sure you have breakfast to hand if you’re at work and no matter how busy your schedule is, set aside a little time to eat.
“Oats are a brilliant breakfast option and very healthy. I would suggest swapping sugar for honey. Although it is still a sweetener and essentially still sugar, it is a slightly better choice over white sugar. Try exploring more interesting toppings such as dried or fresh fruit, nuts and seeds too.
“Variety is good so you could try probiotic yoghurt in place of oats and still explore the many different toppings. The protein and fat in yoghurt will keep you satiated and help ward of sweet cravings between meals. For something savoury, you could try chopped avocado, nuts and seeds with lime juice and a little chilli, which is easy to prepare at work and very nutritious."
Anna Hunter, Senior Features Writer
Leon Smoked Salmon and Avocado pot with a sprinkle of chilli flakes and spoonful of plain yogurt. Drinks - a Leon mango and passionfruit kefir smoothie and a black Americano
“This is my ‘I slept in’ breakfast (at home I’ll make oat porridge with nut butter, berries and a small glass of juice with tea). Given that I’m breaking fast al desko more often than I’d like to admit due to deadlines and late bedtimes, this would be an accurate example of a weekday breakfast.
“I’m a bit of a salmon freak so this fulfils that quota, and while I used to have a bonafide Frosted Wheats addiction, I’ve come around to a savoury breakfast as I approach my third decade. This doesn’t bother me - I love a sweet n salty combo. The Americano is necessary for the sleep deprivation element but also because I’ve developed a serious taste for coffee over the past year or so. It could be the swanky turbo-charged coffee machine in the office that got me hooked, but I do try to limit coffee consumption to weekdays only. I get the Americano on my way in as it’s part of the breakfast meal deal. I like adding chilli flakes and a scoop of yogurt to add flavour and make the pot a bit more substantial. I do find it keeps me going - I famously eat lunch at about the time that everyone breaks for tea in the afternoon. On a Friday I might pass by Pret instead for an almond croissant instead of the egg pot, because, Friday.”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “This is a great start to the day. Both eggs and salmon provide a good source of protein and the avocado is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and folic acid. I like that fact that you’re adding in a dollop of yoghurt to the pot as this adds bone-loving calcium, topping this healthy breakfast off nicely. This is definitely a better option than your Frosted Wheat addiction.”
The not-so-healthy: “The sugar-laden almond croissant is obviously not the healthiest choice, but you seem to have this breakfast balanced with healthier options on the remaining days. Watch the sugar content of the kefir as it is made with purees and juices. You could switch between a veggie juice on alternate days for something lower in sugar.”
My recommendations: “Stick to the egg pot for a healthy option and switch between kefir and a veggie juice on alternate days. As a once-a-week treat, there is nothing wrong with indulging in an almond croissant but try and watch your sugar intake during the day.”
Sarah McGinnis, Art Editor
A berry smoothie (made using a handful of blackberries and blueberries, three tbsps of Total Greek Yogurt, 200ml of almond milk, half an avocado and cinnamon)
“I never usually have anything as soon as I wake up, I’m never hungry that early in the morning. Sometimes I don’t even have a glass of water until I get to work (which is ridiculous I know!). More often than not, I make the only smoothie recipe I’ve ever stuck too. I like something I can easily prep the night before as I hate getting things together when I wake up in the morning. Smoothies I’ve found are both quick and healthy (I think!?) so I’m pretty boring pre-12pm! I usually grab this out of the fridge and drink it when I get to the office around 8.30/9am. It keeps me full right up until lunch because I find myself sipping it throughout the morning. I‘m getting really bored of the flavours though - it’s the only smoothie combination I’ve found easy enough to pull together so far. I’d quite like to mix it up so I’m not having the same thing all week. I also quite like the idea of having something that isn’t a drink - although my smoothie’s filling, I worry I’m just heading for bloating instead of being full on a wholesome breakfast.
“If I’m feeling lazy (normally by the time Friday rolls around when I’ve run out of ingredients), I’ll just have three dark rye Ryvitas with marmite - which never fills me up but I LOVE Marmite!”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “All the ingredients in your smoothie offer a great source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (these are pigments that give your berries their bright colours and act as antioxidants in the body). Avocado is a really healthy addition and gives your smoothie a dose of healthy fats that will help to keep you full and the yoghurt provides a serving of calcium for healthy bones. Ryvita is a good source of fibre, which is lacking in many people’s diets and Marmite is a good source of B12 (great for vegetarians).”
The not-so-healthy: “It’s good to try and vary your breakfast throughout the week so you can glean a broad range of nutrients from your diet. Marmite can be high in salt so is best eaten sparingly.”
My recommendations: “This is a healthy way to start the day but it looks a little repetitive. I would try and explore some other ingredients that you can add to the mix. Nuts and crushed seeds work well in smoothies as do porridge oats, which make this smoothie much more of a meal. I would try and drink your smoothie in one go rather than sip it throughout the morning and drip feeding your body with sugar (although these are fruit sugars). There is nothing wrong with Ryvita, but I would try and top them with some more substantial toppings. Smoked salmon, goat’s cheese with pear slices, nut butter with banana or avocado all work well.”
Victoria Woodhall, Editor
A yogurt pot topped with fruit, honey, seeds and a tbsp of health powder/nuts/chia or an ice cube of my homemade juice shot. Drink - oolong tea
“On waking, I will have black tea - usually oolong. I make around a litre and drink it during the course of the morning (I start at 6am with yoga and leave at 8.30 for the school run). Any spare I drink cold in a water bottle.
“I try not to pick on the kids’ breakfast or lunchboxes as I’m making them in the morning as I try to do a 12-14 hour overnight fast, which is as much as I can do without getting too hungry.
“Breakfast is generally a jar of what my husband kindly refers to as ‘mush’, a kind of pimped yogurt combining whatever I have in the fridge. Currently it's 180ml homemade of organic yogurt (using semi-skimmed milk), a tbsp of protein powder (currently The Nue Co whey), a teaspoon of a health powder (either Nue Co Debloat or Welleco The Super Elixir), frozen raspberries or frozen banana slices, a squirt of honey (but not with banana) and a sprinkle of something textured like pumpkin seeds or coconut flakes. If I don’t use protein powder I will add flax, buckwheat flakes, ground almonds or chia. Sometimes instead of health powder, I will add a frozen ice cube of my homemade juice shot which is turmeric, lemon and ginger if I have some in the freezer. I pack it all into a 385ml Bonne Maman jam jar and by the time I get to work, all the frozen stuff is nicely thawed, the seeds and nuts are soaked and it’s super yummy. If I don’t have time to make this, then breakfast is an apple and about four wholegrain rice cakes or sourdough with nut butter.
“I’m a sucker for ‘healthy’ stuff, breakfast is my favourite meal (I like to feel like I’m pretty full) and yogurt and fruit is my favourite breakfast, although on its own, it’s not filling enough.”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “Well this bowl is quite a concoction! All the ingredient choices for your yoghurt bowl are nutritious. Nuts and seeds offer a good source of magnesium and B vitamins that help to convert food into energy. Flax seeds and chia are a good choice for your bowl as they are rich in fibre that will help to keep you full through to lunch and are also a dose of omega 3. Tea contains powerful antioxidants that may help to ward of disease, so this is a good way to start the day as well as maintain hydration during and after your yoga session. I love the ice cube shot idea!”
The not-so-healthy: “Protein and other health powders can often contain sugar in some form or another, but I imagine you’re checking the labels for that. The apple and rice cake/nut butter combination sounds OK but more of a snack than a substantial breakfast option that is meant to keep you going until lunch.”
My recommendations: “Stick to the ‘mush’ pots as they sound delicious and healthy but just be mindful of everything you’re putting into them. Although these are all healthy calories, you will be surprised how the energy value of your pots mounts up, so eat mindfully. Just keep an eye on the sugar content of your pots by checking the food labels. For days when the pots are not on the menu, then try experimenting with toppings for your rice cakes if that is what you want to eat. These can be an easy breakfast option for work. Choose brown rice cakes and go for avocado, smoked salmon, bananas, cream cheese and boiled eggs.”
Jane Druker, GTG contributor
Roibos tea, followed by white coffee
“The last time I ate breakfast I had pigtails and a satchel – it was 1981. I was at boarding school, where breakfast was weak tea, putrid porridge and burnt toast. No wonder it put me off.
"I’m an early riser (6am) but just don't feel much like food in the wee early hours and actually defer my appetite to the tail end of my day. It’s an attitude, I know, that is wholly frowned upon by the three-meals-a-day police. The recent popularity of intermittent fasting equating less food generally with a healthy weight very much resonates with me. I spend my working life computer-bound sitting on my jacksee and will have only rooibos tea and one mid-morning coffee made from ground beans and full-fat milk until I get the first slight twinge of appetite at around 11am. This is easily relieved with some fresh fruit, such as a punnet of raspberries, which will do me until my lunchtime light salad or sushi.
“Dinner in our house is an event (my husband is a chef) featuring lots of protein and vegetables. Red quinoa and wild rice and pomegranate are current 'grain' favourites, but I have never met a cheese board or a chip I didn't like and I allow myself indulgences, just not every day. It’s a formula that l stick with and the formula that works for me - at 50, I remain at my happy weight of 55kg.”
Our expert’s analysis
The healthy: “It seems you have the right idea in terms of the amount of food you’re eating during the day as you have identified that you spend most of it sat at a desk and not moving very much. Sushi, salads and berries are all healthy foods. There is research around a type of intermittent fasting that suggests 12 to 16 hours without food leaving an 8 to 10-hour eating window. Intermittent fasting has been shown to help with weight loss (and belly fat) and has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. This type of eating may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”
The not-so-healthy: “While no food should be labelled as good or bad, keeping a lid on the amount of cheese and chips you eat will help to maintain a healthy weight and unhealthy fats in the diet.”
My recommendations: “Well you are still effectively eating three meals each day even if that first one is just fruit. Although I am one of these three-meals-a-day police, I also believe you shouldn’t follow set rules and eat when you feel hungry. Your lunch sounds quite small, so to prevent the possible desire to snack mid-afternoon I would try and include protein in your salad and possibly whole grains or pulses to help keep you feeling full. Your evening meal sounds really healthy and I’m very envious that you have your own personal chef to hand! There is nothing wrong with eating cheese or chips, but I would only say to watch your portion sizes and see these foods as more occasional than daily. I would like to make sure you are eating enough calcium during the day as this is particularly important as we age. Try yoghurt, greens veggies, tahini, tofu and dried fruits for other sources of calcium.”