Forget high-fat or low-fat breakfasts, it's low-carb that will stop the mid-morning snack attacks
Think of breakfast food and you’re most likely to conjure up images of crunchy cereal, buttery toast and hearty bowls of porridge. Unfortunately starting the day with carb-heavy food like this (even if it's low fat) isn’t ideal if you’re on a weight-loss mission.
According to Dr Michael Mosley, creator of the 5:2 and Fast 800 intermittent fasting diets and the Fast 800 weight loss programme, low-carb breakfast choices (chia bircher, eggs or yoghurt, for example) are a must when it comes to successful weight loss.
After extensive research into diets the world over, Dr Michael Mosley based his highly successful weight loss and health maintenance plans around the Mediterranean diet - a relatively high fat, low-ish carb way of eating, with an abundance of fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and olive oil and has a low glycaemic index, meaning it keeps blood sugar levels stable.
You might think an extremely low-carb high-fat diet such as keto or Atkins would be preferable, but as he points out in his book The Fast 800: How to Combine Rapid Weight Loss and Intermittent Fasting for Long-Term Health , the Mediterranean diet is better for long-term weight loss. In a six-year trial carried out in Dimona, Israel, 322 middle-aged participants were randomly assigned to a low-fat diet, low carb diet (based on Atkins) or a low-ish carb Mediterranean diet. The low-fat group cut their consumption of fat and calories by 19 per cent but despite this, lost the least weight of all three. The low-carb group lost the most and the Med dieters somewhere in between. However, it was the Mediterranean diet group who saw the biggest improvement in their insulin levels.
Surprisingly, at the end of the six-year study, the low-fat and low-carb dieters both put on much of the weight they'd lost (possibly because their diets were harder to stick to) and the Med dieters were 3.1kg lighter tan when they started. "It's particularly impressive when you consider that over a six-year period a middle-aged person would normally expect to put on about 3kg. In other words, at the end of six years, the group allocated to the Med-style diet actually weighed 6kg less than if they hadn't taken part in the trial," he says.
The Med-diet was the clear winner, with participants losing - and crucially keeping off - almost twice as much weight as the low-carbers. So if you're umming and ah-ing over what to choose for breakfast, or at any meal, Med-style low carb is a clear winner over low fat.
Mediterranean diet-based breakfasts which are protein-rich and low carb will neither significantly increase your blood sugar or lead to weight gain; they'll keep you fuller for longer meaning you're less likely to want to snack and so are an important way of setting up healthy eating patterns for the day. Here, Dr Michael Mosley explains more and shares his recommended Fast 80 recipes. Egg fans, you’re in luck.
GTG: Why is eating low carb so important at the beginning of the day?
MM: "One of the main reasons for opting for a low carb breakfast is that you won’t then get famished in the middle of the morning and feel tempted to tuck into a pastry. Lots of studies have shown that if you eat a protein-rich breakfast, perhaps something with egg or fish, then this will keep you fuller for longer."
GTG: You like to experiment on yourself. What happened when you tested a low carb v high carb breakfast?
MM: "I’ve done a number of experiments on myself where I have alternated eating a low carb breakfast, followed next day by something higher carb while measuring my blood sugar levels with a monitor. Eating a croissant, for example, makes my blood sugars soar and then crash, leaving me starving hungry. Eating a portion of omelette, with exactly the same calories, produced only a minor blood sugar blip."
GTG: Are fruit juices and smoothies a good breakfast option?
MM: "We have this illusion that fruit juice and smoothies are healthy, but many commercial ones contain the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar or more. When you eat an apple you also get lots of fibre, which slows down the sugar rush. When you drink an apple juice all that sugar is swiftly absorbed and sends your blood sugars soaring. An apple contains roughly half the calories you’d find in a glass of apple juice."
GTG: How many grams of carbs should you eat for breakfast?
MM: "What matters is not so much the grams of carbs but the form they come in. I sometimes have porridge with wheat bran for breakfast, which comes to about 22g of carbs, but it also comes with 5g of fibre."
GTG: Some people believe that the morning is the best time to eat your carbs so you burn them off in the day. When is the best time to eat carbs?
MM: "The best time to eat carbs is just before you do something active. That way, when your blood sugars soar, your muscles will take that sugar and burn it to provide power. So if you like to go for a run or brisk walk after breakfast, then carbs for breakfast are fine. But if you are simply going to drive to work and then sit in meetings, all that extra sugar in your blood will raise your insulin levels and get turned to fat. As I point out in my new book, Fast Asleep, How to Get A Really Good Night’s Rest , the worst time to eat carbs is just before you go to bed."
Dr Michael Mosley's Fast 800 best low carb breakfasts
Green brekkie bowl - best for egg fans
"Breakfast bowls aren’t just limited to cereal! Try out this vegetable-packed breakfast bowl that’s full of flavour and nutrition."
Prep time: 4 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
½ tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
70g kale, hardy stems removed and leaves - shredded
½ courgette (approx. 75g or 2 2/3 oz), chopped
5 mushrooms, sliced
50g spinach leaves
2 large free-range eggs
½ avocado, mashed
1. Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil, spices, kale and courgette. Cook for approximately 7 minutes, or until the kale turns soft. Now add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, add the spinach, turn off the heat and stir through.
2. Meanwhile, poach the eggs. To do this, pour cold water into a large saucepan until approx. 8cm deep. Add some vinegar to the water. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce the heat to low (water should still be simmering around the edge). Crack an egg into a shallow bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir the water to create a whirlpool. Tip the egg into the water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes for a soft yolk, or 3 to 4 minutes for a firm yolk. Using a slotted spoon, remove the egg from the water. Repeat with the other egg.
3. Place the greens into a large bowl, add the mashed avocado and top with the poached eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
Chia Breakfast Bircher - best for vegans
"Chia seeds offer so much versatility. Enjoy this and other variations of a make-ahead bircher, scatter over almost any food or mix and soak to create a creamy texture."
Prep time: 5 minutes, plus soaking time
Cooking time: None
1 tbsp chia seeds
40g rolled oats
200ml carton coconut milk*
2 passion fruit
60g assorted berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
20g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1. Combine the chia seeds, oats and coconut milk. Stir well.
2. Divide the mixture between 2 small bowls and leave to stand for 30 minutes (or prepare the night before and keep in the fridge).
3. Plate up one portion and stir the seeds from 1 passion fruit through the oat mixture. Top with half the berries and hazelnuts.
For the leftovers:
Keep the second portion in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. When ready to eat, stir in the seeds from the second passion fruit and sprinkle with the remaining berries and chopped hazelnuts to serve.
* Calories for a carton of coconut milk per 100 ml will vary significantly across brands, based on their processing. The nutrition of this recipe is based on 20 calories per 100ml. Please check the nutrition panel of your coconut milk options to choose a full-fat brand with a similar energy value.
Rhubarb yoghurt - doubles as a dessert
"A simple yet delicious recipe that can be served as a dessert or for breakfast".
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes
300g rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
1 orange, juiced and grated zest
4cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
200g plain full-fat Greek yoghurt
1. Place the chopped rhubarb in a medium-sized saucepan with the orange zest and juice, ginger and 1 tbsp water.
2. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes until the rhubarb is soft and cooked, but still holds its shape. Refrigerate half in an airtight container, for leftovers.
3. Serve half the yoghurt and mix in the warm rhubarb. Keep the remaining yoghurt for your leftovers.
For the leftovers:
When ready to enjoy your leftovers, serve the remaining yoghurt and either mix in the rhubarb cold or, gently reheat the rhubarb and serve warmed with the yoghurt.
To make ahead:
Cook the rhubarb as above and store in the fridge in an air-tight container until ready for use, within 2-3 days. (It can also be frozen, once cooked).
Briefly reheat when ready to serve with yoghurt. Can also be eaten cold.
The Fast 800 is an approach to healthy living and weight loss based on the latest scientific research. The Fast 800 online programme has been developed in conjunction with Dr Michael Mosley for those that need more support and guidance for achieving long-lasting health.