Lorn Healthy Options weekly health tip – March 31

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Breakfast – The most important meal of the day?

Before I start, please don’t panic if you wake hungry and enjoy a regular healthy breakfast each morning.

If that is working for you, as it does for me, continue with this dietary habit.

What I want to do this week is shed a little light on advice that has been handed out by people like myself for years but may need a little re-set for some when it comes to weight loss.

Breakfast has long been ranked as the most important meal of the day by health and dietary specialists. By missing breakfast, the worry was we would be ravenously hungry for the rest of the day and overeat extra large meals and regular snacks.

There was also a worry metabolism would be suppressed if we missed breakfast, but both these concerns are not entirely backed by research.

There is considerable data to show eating breakfast does not influence the amount of calories consumed at lunch or dinner and there is little or no metabolic adaptation. Therefore some people could be forcing in additional calories in the morning when they are not hungry.

But won’t they run out of energy after fasting all night?

Our body is excellent at preparing us for the early part of the day. Just before we wake, our circadian rhythm kicks out a mix of growth hormone, cortisol and adrenaline along with a release of glucose into our blood stream from energy stored in the liver.

So when you wake up you are already fuelled up and ready for action, but maybe not ready to eat. Many people, like myself, are active first thing in the morning and I haven’t often felt low on fuel during my morning cycle ride on Mull. Breakfast before the activity would not be good news in terms of keeping the food in my stomach but I am really ready for my porridge as I travel across on the ferry to Oban each day.

It may be the timing of breakfast is not that important, but what you eat is critical.

The problem with breakfast time is that we are often in a hurry and stressed. Many parents will be trying to get food into children, so we opt for convenience, affordability and food that will not go off quickly.

Think about the breakfast cereal isle in supermarkets. The vast majority contain poor choices, high in sugar and often endorsed by influential sports stars. You can bet they don’t eat the stuff, but money talks.

Three quarters of our children eat high sugar cereals in the morning with other easy to prepare choices such as toast, bagels, pancakes and surgery yoghurts. The cheap refined carbohydrate is the breakfast king and big breakfast food companies know that trends set up in childhood will likely continue into adulthood.

So perhaps we should adopt a more common sense approach to breakfast.

If you are hungry when you wake up, have breakfast. If not, wait until you are. If you force yourself to eat then feel hungry again soon afterwards, don’t force the food in first thing. If you are active in the morning, have breakfast afterwards and try to avoid sugary options. Instead, opt for a high fibre breakfast which will allow a slow, steady entry of energy and nutrients into your system and make you feel fuller for longer.

If you are not hungry in the morning, missing or having a small breakfast is not the end of the world. Just be aware this does not give you the freedom to have doughnuts for a mid morning snack.

What we do know is those who start the day well in terms of activity and diet are more likely to make positive health choices in the following hours. As your body has gone to all the trouble of preparing you for action along with lighter mornings, could you start your day with a brisk walk and follow it up with a healthy breakfast when you are ready for it?

Breakfast may not be quite as important as we first thought, but morning is definitely the best time of the day.

Rob Graham, lead exercise professional, Healthy Options.