Health: The right breakfast can improve your life

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How eating well in the morning can boost the immune system and aid weight loss.

In Burma, it’s a dish of leftover fried rice, peas and onion, heated up and wolfed down on the way to work.

Mark Greenaway shows how easy it is to prepare a healthy breakfast. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Mark Greenaway shows how easy it is to prepare a healthy breakfast. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Americans love their pancakes, French adore their croissants, Aussies wake up to toast and Vegemite. And here, well, breakfast isn’t quite the real deal without half a farmyard fried, smothered in baked beans and plonked on the table with toast and butter and a builder’s brew.

This week it emerged that breakfast really may be the most important meal of the day – and not just because it helps stop our tummy rumbling loudly during that important mid-morning meeting.

According to new and extensive research from America, missing breakfast is associated with a higher risk of both heart attacks and death from coronary heart disease.

The Harvard researchers tracked 26,000 men over 16 years, analysing their illness records and taking into account risk factors like smoking and drinking habits. They found missing breakfast was linked to a 27 per cent increased

likelihood of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease. The results suggest skipping breakfast impacts on high-risk factors which can lead to cardiac problems – such as obesity, high blood pressure or raised cholesterol levels.

So if your idea of a good breakfast is a strong coffee and a fag, here nutritionist Emma Conroy of Edinburgh Nutrition, (www.edinburghnutrition.com) and top chef Mark Greenaway can tell you just what your body is missing.

• Breakfast whole grain products may help fight the risk of cancer. A recent BMJ study found eating more fibre-rich whole grains like oats, porridge, certain breads and cereals seemed to help prevent colorectal cancer, as well as being linked to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains also take longer to digest and keep blood sugar steady. However Emma warns added sugar in some products can wipe out benefits.

• Eating breakfast can HELP you lose weight. Eating first thing jolts the metabolism, skipping breakfast sends it into starvation mode to conserve energy. “Apart from making you think, feel and work better, a substantial breakfast is good for your weight,” says Emma. “Studies have shown people who skimp on breakfast and eat their main meal at night are generally fatter than those who have a good breakfast and a small evening meal.”

• We spend more on packaged cereals than elsewhere in Europe, but Emma points out that studies show they can set us up to a day of blood sugar highs and lows linked to fatigue, headaches and bad food choices. Eggs, however, are protein packed with all nine essential amino acids and natural vitamin D. “Only after breakfasts based on eggs and bacon did blood sugar levels remain good and subjects were bright, alert and efficient,” says Emma.

• Breakfast ticks many nutritional boxes, assuming we make good choices. In one sitting we can tuck into protein from eggs, calcium in milk or yoghurt, fruit and fibre rich whole grains. Variety and a good helping of protein is key. Emma suggests rollmop herring with oatcakes, Continental-style meats and cheeses, fruit smoothies, avocado with balsamic vinegar or full fat Greek yoghurt with nuts and seeds.

• Breakfast boosts brain power. Running on empty can make it harder for us to process information and perform adequately. As far ago as the 1950s, research was finding that children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom than those who don’t. Again it’s down to the what we eat, says Emma. “A breakfast with more protein and fats – like eggs or toast with peanut butter – are far better than sugary breakfast cereal or breakfast bars.”

• Soon we’ll be fighting winter colds and research suggests a good breakfast can help.

A Dutch study showed a substantial breakfast boosts the body’s gamma-interferon, a natural antiviral that directly activates immune cells. While a study from Cardiff University also claimed people who skipped breakfast were more prone to infections. It’s thought white blood cells, which fight infection, benefit from a morning boost.

• CHEF Mark Greenaway says a little effort can ensure breakfast isn’t boring and set us up for the day ahead.

“There’s only so many bowls of cornflakes we can eat, so it’s about getting a little bit more adventurous and being organised so breakfast is quick and easy and we get through the morning rush.

“Bircher Muesli is fresh and fruity, and only takes minutes to prepare the night before.”

Bircher Muesli (Serves 2)

150g porridge oats

150ml fresh apple juice

150ml fresh orange juice

1 grated Granny Smith apple

150ml yoghurt

Method: The evening before mix all the ingredients together, cover and chill overnight. In the morning, give it a good mix and then serve with milk and your choice of favourite toppings. Try sprinkling with toasted coconut, a handful of mixed berries, chopped banana, some honey and almonds or rhubarab compote

“Waffles in my opinion are very under-rated,” adds Mark. “Why stick to only sweet flavours when you can make such a huge variety of savoury ones too? I love this sweetcorn and basil version, which is great for breakfast served with spinach and a poached egg.”

SAVOURY BREAKFAST WAFFLES (Serves 4)

3 eggs

150g plain flour

185ml milk

4 tablespoons sweetcorn

2 tablespoons shredded basil

Large pinch salt

4 poached eggs

1 bag baby spinach

20g unsalted butter

Method: Separate the eggs, making sure you don’t spill any of the yolk into the whites. Mix egg yolks with milk and add sweet- corn and basil. Add sieved plain flour to milk mixture to achieve a batter consistency.

Whip the egg whites and fold gently through the batter mix. Season with salt.

Cook in a waffle machine for approx seven minutes until golden brown and fluffy.

Wilt the spinach in the butter and drain on kitchen towel. Place the waffles on a plate and top with spinach, then a poached egg.

n Restaurant Mark Greenaway, North Castle Street, www.markgreenaway.com. Tel: 013- 226 1155.