Toast the day: Eating right from the start

By Susan Edmunds

Breakfast is a very important meal, writes Susan Edmunds and we should make time for it every day.

Toast or cereal are both good options for your first meal. Photo / Thinkstock
Toast or cereal are both good options for your first meal. Photo / Thinkstock

Whether it is the most important meal of the day is up for debate, but nutrition experts agree any breakfast is better than nothing.

Breakfast has been in the spotlight recently, with research showing 10 per cent of children are going to school without having eaten. But Associate Professor Winsome Parnell, of Otago University, says it is hypocritical to focus on kids' breakfast habits when at least the same percentage of adults go without the first meal of the day themselves.

Breakfast gives a critical early-morning brain boost that helps you to think more clearly and function better. First thing in the morning, most people's blood glucose level is low and Dr Pam von Hurst of Massey University says that is why cognitive functioning has been shown to be much better in people who have eaten breakfast.

"If you think in terms of being in a fasted state, between finishing dinner and having breakfast for most people is about 10 hours. By that stage all the benefits from their dinner, all the nutrients, have been absorbed and stored."

Von Hurst says studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less hungry in the afternoon than their counterparts who don't, even when both people eat the same lunch.

Parnell says people who eat breakfast generally have better diets overall.

She says for some people, they key to eating a good breakfast is changing the idea of what "breakfast" should be. A lot of Pacific Island people do not grow up with cereal and milk so it is not a natural option for them in adulthood. "We need to tell people that if you have last night's leftovers heated up, that's fine, or an egg on toast."

The idea that a simple piece of toast will not provide a nutritious enough breakfast is also leading people astray, Parnell says. "In New Zealand we get more protein from bread than anything else ... and we usually don't just have bread, we'll put something on it." She says toast with honey and a glass of milk, or toast with cheese, are good breakfast options.

"I think we've scared people off. We need some creativity about breakfast and to realise that there are a range of things that are alright."

A lot of people's breakfast suffers because of a lack of time. Parnell says people need to find ways to make breakfast accessible, and some workplaces might to need to make changes to be more accommodating. She says she used to have a team of staff, several of whom would not eat before coming to work because of things such as sport commitments. Having a kitchen allowed them to have their cereal once they were at work. "We have to make it easier for people to have a good breakfast. Some workplaces might need to make an adjustment."

Parnell and Von Hurst say anything is better than nothing, even if you are resorting to a takeaway pastry and a cup of coffee. Von Hurst says: "If you are having a milky coffee, there are some benefits from that... with a pastry there are a lot of calories and less nutrition benefit."

Von Hurst says the best breakfast foods are high in complex carbohydrates and provide a glucose boost for a number of hours, such as wholegrain cereals and toast or a milky coffee with yoghurt, fruit and cereal. Active, growing children might need two servings of carbohydrates while that would be too much for sedentary adults.

When it comes to eating a cafe brunch at weekends, Von Hurst and Parnell say there are a few things to watch for to make sure your waistline is not taking a hit along with your wallet. Von Hurst says: "Avoid things that are really high in calories, high in saturated fat or simple sugars." Eggs Benedict is a popular option, and would be perfect without the sauce, but the creamy hollandaise is high in saturated fat, she says. "People can make good choices and not so good choices."

Parnell says as long as brunch takes the place of two meals it is not so bad. It's when you have brunch, then a normal sized lunch and dinner that you get into trouble.

Von Hurst says breakfast can be an easy way to stock up on nutrients. "It's an ideal way to tick off a few of those recommended fruit and carbohydrate serves."

- NZ Herald

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