How eating the right breakfast can help you

Porridge topped with fruit is a far better bet for breakfast than the likes of a takeaway croissant. Picture: PA

Porridge topped with fruit is a far better bet for breakfast than the likes of a takeaway croissant. Picture: PA

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Grabbing breakfast on the go, or missing it completely in the mad morning rush, is a common feature of today’s hectic lifestyles.

After all, why waste precious time sitting down to a good healthy meal, when you can just munch on a breakfast bar on the way to work?

The answer is simple – eating breakfast on the go, or skipping it altogether, means missing out on vital nutrients.

It could also mean you’re spending more money on your morning sustenance than you realise, and setting yourself up for mid-morning sugar cravings and possible weight gain.

Despite all this, nearly a third of adults admit they struggle to find time to eat breakfast at home, according to new research by the Breakfast Cereal Information Service (BCIS).

BUDGET CRUNCH

If health and nutrition aren’t enough to convince you about the benefits of preparing your own breakfast, let the money do the talking instead.

Allowing yourself an extra five minutes every morning to eat a bowl of cereal, rather than grabbing a muffin and latte on the way to work, could save more than £800 a year.

According to BCIS research, cereals are the best value breakfast buy, with an average cost of 22p per portion, compared to £3.88 for a muffin and latte, or £3.48 for croissant and cappuccino. For someone buying a takeaway breakfast daily on their way to work, this could add up to a whopping £853.60 annually (which could pay for a very nice holiday!).

Porridge oats are also extremely good value. A kilogram of oats can cost as little as 58p, and will make numerous bowls of healthy porridge. “It’s probably less than 5p a serving, and one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have,” says dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, an advisor to the BCIS.

BOWLED OVER

Indeed, oats contain a wide variety of nutrients including protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, vitamins E and B, as well as plenty of soluble fibre with cholesterol-lowering properties.

They’re also famed for their ability to keep you feeling full for longer, meaning you’ll be less tempted to reach for that biscuit tin come 11 o’clock. And if cooking porridge sounds a little too time-consuming, how about trying “overnight porridge”, where oats are soaked in milk in the fridge overnight, ready to eat in the morning? They’re even tastier – and nutrient-packed – with added fruit and seeds, notes Ruxton.

She believes humble bowls of cereal are a very good choice, pointing out that they often provide a significant amount of fibre.

“On average, cereal breakfasts give you more nutritional bang for your buck and are a very affordable, healthy way to start the day, particularly if you’re watching the pennies,” she says.

Some are fortified with extra nutrients too.

“If you eat a fortified breakfast cereal, you can get loads of nutrients, including iron, B vitamins and vitamin D,” says British Dietetic Association spokesperson Alison Clark, pointing out that for people who spend most of their day indoors and therefore might not be getting enough daylight, leading to possible vitamin D deficiency, a fortified cereal is a great way to help address that.

BEWARE THE SUGAR TRAP

Of course, many cereals, particularly those aimed at children, contain lots of added sugar, and research by the campaign group Action on Sugar earlier this year found that, although some manufacturers had reduced the amount of sugar in their cereals in recent years, a fifth had increased it.

Even a small bowl of some popular brands can contain three teaspoons of the white stuff – the same as two-and-a-half chocolate biscuits – which may contribute to unhealthy weight gain, raising the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

But many cereals have reduced or no added sugar.

“You’ll get some cereals that are really high in sugar, and others that are better for you. You’ve just got to be label-savvy and choose the healthier ones,” advises Clark.

ENDLESS CHOICES

Breakfasts don’t have to be repetitive and boring, and if you don’t fancy cereal, there are plenty of other healthy options to choose from.

“There are loads of other healthy breakfasts you can go for – there’s porridge, toast and nut butter, boiled or scrambled egg and toast, and even leftovers from the night before, like boiled rice in a stir fry,” says Clark.

Even cooked breakfasts can be made in a healthy way, scrambling or poaching eggs instead of frying them, grilling mushrooms and tomatoes, which are a great source of the antioxidant compound lycopene, which helps protect against prostate cancer. You can also add baked beans for soluble fibre, and wholemeal toast.

“Just avoid processed red meat, like bacon,” advises Clark, pointing out that limiting your intake of processed read meat is recommended, due to its links with certain cancers.

TAKING THE BISCUIT

Breakfast biscuits are a popular takeaway option these days, although many contain just as much fat and sugar as ordinary biscuits. Muffins and pastries, perhaps more obviously, can also be high in fat and sugar, and might lack nutrients.

Again, Clark advises people to read the labels before buying, and warns: “Obviously, if you’re going to drop into a coffee shop and buy a croissant or an American muffin, that’s not going to be healthy.”

BETTER THAN NOTHING

Whatever you choose, eating something is always better than skipping breakfast entirely.

“We need to encourage people to eat breakfast, because it’s a really good source of nutrients, and eating something first thing in the morning is better than going without,” stresses Clark. “It breaks the fast and gets your metabolism going.”

People often ditch breakfast in a bid to lose weight, too. However, research repeatedly shows that people who eat breakfast tend to be more likely to maintain a healthy weight.

“People might think they’re going to save calories by not eating breakfast, but by mid-morning they’re starving, and often the only thing that’s available is the work biscuit barrel, so you end up eating more calories than you would have done with, say, a 160-calorie bowl of cereal,” says Clark.

“If you can get yourself into the habit of eating something in the morning, it will pay dividends for your health. Make the time – it’s five minutes very well spent.”