Beginning your day with a "heart healthy" breakfast is probably not as healthful as you have been led to believe. In fact gulping down a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and digging into some toast with jam could be way down on the list of bright ways to begin your day.
“Heart healthy" and "low fat" labels are widely and proudly stamped on restaurant menus and food products as smart choices for healthy minded individuals like you and me. At first glance these seemingly healthy foods certainly appear to be a wise choice, who doesn't want to avoid the world’s greatest killer (heart disease) and enjoy the extensive benefits of a lean and healthy body?
The unfortunate truth is anytime you read "low fat" or "heart healthy" on a food or menu item you are potentially looking at something that is highly processed and loaded with sugar. There's certainly space for some sugar and processed foods in your overall diet, but if you eat these foods most of the time your health and waistline could be in trouble.
So, if you are going to play the low fat game you must do so with caution.
The aim of this post is to bring some common breakfast myths to your attention and steer you towards some healthier food choices - if you choose to eat breakfast at all that is!
Let’s dig in!
Despite what Kelloggs has been telling us for years, there is no evidence to support that eating breakfast benefits you in terms of health improvement or weight loss.
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that eating it boosts your metabolism and prevents you from going into “starvation mode”. What a load of rubbish! It actually takes 3 days of eating NOTHING for your body’s metabolism to slow down and go into “starve mode”.
Another common beleif is that eating breakfast prevents you from overeating later on the day - again this is NOT TRUE.
The Bath Breakfast Study showed that despite popular belief there is hardly any impact of eating breakfast on snacking or portion sizes and absolutely no evidence at all that breakfast 'kick starts' the metabolism.
So what does this mean? Its means you can do whatever you want when you wake up! if you don’t feel hungry in the morning don’t eat anything and save those calories for later in the day when you do feel hungry. Eating just for the sake of it (i.e. just because its breakfast time but you are not hungry) can increase your overall calorie intake and raise your likelihood of gaining weight. On the other hand, if you wake up with an appetite go ahead and eat something. So long as you factor those calories into your overall calorie intake for the day you can still lose/maintain your weight.
Some people do great skipping breakfast whilst other don’t – so see what works best for you.
If you like to eat big meals and enjoy a fully stretched stomach you may do very well skipping breakfast or eating very lightly in the morning and using the saved calories to pile up your plate during the remaining 2-3 meals of your day. Eating your first meal around lunch time creates smaller gaps in-between your remaining meals which makes you feel fuller and can help you go to bed feeling satiated.
I personally hate going to bed hungry, so eating less at breakfast or skipping it altogether works well for me as it allows me to eat more calories at night when I am naturally more hungry.
Remember WHEN you eat is far less important than WHAT you eat (i.e. how many calories you eat and the quality of those calories).
If you are going to eat breakfast and are chasing weight loss and general health improvement goals what kinds of foods should you eat?
Obviously this is a quite a broad question and depends upon many things such as your food preferences, daily activity levels, budget, available time, etc. but in simple terms and for the sake of this post, you should eat foods that are rich in protein and/or high in fiber to help fill you up and select foods that are rich in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to support your overall health.
Lets take a look at the heart healthy/low fat" breakfast below as promoted by the American Heart Association as an example of what you probably shouldn't eat:
Staring your day with a glass of fruit juice may provide some vitamins but from a weight loss perspective drinking your calories is a mostly a bad idea. Does this mean you can never drink calories? No, of course not, but the fact remains that liquid calories like juices do not fill you up and may set you up to eat more calories later in the day because of their low satiety value.
Common breakfast cereals or toast with jam are also not great choices because of their lack of protein which is great at filling you up and helping to build or retain muscle tissue whilst dieting.
Here's a quick break down of a heart healthy/low fat breakfast:
- OJ: Starting your day with a small 8oz glass of 100% freshly squeezed orange juice means ingesting 26 grams of carbs, most of which (22g) are fruit sugar (fructose) and a measly 2g of protein. The fiber content is OJ is nill as its ripped out during the juicing process.
- Toast & Jam: Adding 2 slices of whole-grain toast, and a little jam to the orange juice increases your morning carb count to a total of 67 grams and your protein intake to just 7.5g! Fiber intake is a mere 1.3g!
Most heart healthy breakfasts provide virtually zero fat or protein (both are required for optimal health) and are loaded with carbs. Im not saying carbs are bad because they're not - you should eat them as part of a balanced diet, but slanting any meal, especially breakfast, towards such a high percentage of carbohydrate calories may cause you problems later on. A sugar rush can be a bad way to start the day (not so much due to insulin but because sugar has a high energy density and is not satiating).
So, its generally best to steer away from heart healthy & low fat options in favor of something that provides more protein, fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) instead.
Here are some examples.
Boil them, fry them, scramble them, poach them or whip them into an omelet – you can eat them however you like! A veggie omelet is a great choice because of the vitamins, minerals and fiber provided by the additional veggies.
1 large egg packs almost as much protein (about 6.5 grams) than the entire low fat breakfast above does!
VEGGIE OMLETE: 421 Calories, 21g Protein, 43g Carbs, 22g Fat.
Greek yoghurt is another good source of protein. You can save calories by choosing a low fat option so long as the brand you select is not loading your pot up with sugar at the same time. Throw a few berries on top and a handful of nuts to boost its nutritional value.
If you want even more protein consider adding in some whey protein powder or hydrolyzed collagen.
GREEK YOGURT PARFAIT: 392 Calories / 26g Protein / 33g Carbs / 19g Fat.
225g Low-fat Greek Yoghurt
1⁄2 Cup Blueberries
Just mix it all together and enjoy!
Oats can be a great choice of breakfast. Oats are high in gut filling fiber, contain some protein and have a low energy density - meaning they fill you up whilst providing a small number of calories (unless you cook them in ½ a can of coconut milk or cream that is!). Choose steel cut oats over quick oats for a less processed option and cook them with water, water+ Greek yoghurt or milk.
To boost the protein content you can add egg whites or whey protein. Again throwing some berries on top can boost your vitamins intake.
HIGH PROTEIN OATS: 333 Calories, 21g Protein, 37g Carbs, 11g Fat
1/2 Cup Steal Cut Oats
1 Tbsp (10g) Chia Seeds
3 Egg Whites
50g Full-fat Greek Yoghurt
1 Cup (235ml) Water
We’ve been conditioned into thinking that breakfast needs to come out of a box with a tiger or some other cereal box celebrity on the front, but thats just marketing. Theres nothing to stop you from tucking into some left overs from last night’s dinner in the morning if you feel hungry.
If your diet is already reasonably squared away this meal should be providing you with a good portion of protein and veggies.
Again, there's no evidence to suggest that you MUST eat ANYTHING in the morning. If you choose to skip breakfast entirely and save your calories for later in the day that's just fine! In fact, doing so can be a great time saver and super simple way to cut your calorie intake and lose weight.
Bare in mind that caffeinated drinks like coffee help to reduce hunger, so if you enjoy a cup of tea or coffee you can start your day with one and help manage your hunger.
Caffeine is also a mild elevator of your metabolism so your calorie expenditure will increase a little after consuming your beverage.
A regular 8 0z (tall) black coffee at Starbucks provides just 5 Calories / 0g Protein / 2g Carbs / 0g Fat.
TAKE HOME POINTS
- When it comes to weight loss it doesn’t matter if you eat breakfast or skip it – the only thing that counts is your total calorie intake for the day. Skipping breakfast does not make you eat additional calories later on in the day or harm your health in any way.
- Skipping breakfast does not send your metabolism into a tail spin and put you into “starvation mode”!
- If you are going to eat breakfast – lean towards something higher in protein, fiber and micronutrients such as a veggie omelet and steer away from sugary breakfast cereals, toast with jam and fruit juices most of the time.
Hopefully you found that helpful –if you have any questions feel free to get in touch.