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."