Is breakfast actually the most important meal of the day? And if the answer to that is yes, then what, exactly, should we be eating? Many of us grew up starting the day with cereal, toast, bagels or the occasional piece of bacon, but experts now warn against consuming those sorts of sugary, unrefined foods first thing. Vogue asked the experts what we should be having instead.
Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
This is a question that doesn’t actually have a firm answer. While studies have shown that people who eat breakfast generally tend to be healthier – those who skip it are often found to have a poorer quality diet and are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – some of these results could be explained by the fact that breakfast-eaters tend to make healthier choices at other mealtimes.
With time-restricted eating methods, such as intermittent fasting, now increasingly mainstream, where does that leave us on the subject of breakfast? “It’s a matter of personal physiology and lifestyle,” says nutritionist and functional health expert, Rosemary Ferguson. “For some, kick-starting the day with an early meal fuels their morning activities and stabilises blood sugar levels. Others may find they function better without it – it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. Listening to your body is key.”
What should I eat for breakfast?
If you do like to eat breakfast, then it’s key to ensure you’re consuming the right kinds of foods, because the wrong ones can set you up for an unhealthy day ahead. “A balanced and healthy breakfast should ideally have a combination of fibre, good fats and protein,” says Ferguson. “These nutrients work together to slow down sugar absorption into the bloodstream, which helps maintain a feeling of fullness and provides a steady energy release.”
Avoid carbohydrate-heavy options, like cereal and toast, as they cause “rapid spikes in glucose and insulin levels, leading to a ‘rollercoaster’ of energy highs and lows throughout the day”, advises Ferguson. Anything that contains refined sugars or simple carbohydrates should be avoided, and remember that the majority of those cereal boxes that claim to be packed with nutrients actually possess ingredients lists that tell a different story – always read the label.
A good breakfast might include vegetable omelettes, raw (natural and sugar-free) yoghurt or kefir (both of which are good for your gut) with nuts, seeds and berries, or the classics like avocado, eggs and/or smoked salmon. It might not feel natural first thing in the morning, but load up on vegetables and replace normal bread with wholegrain types, such as german rye or gluten-free sourdough. Eat this way and you’ll avoid constant fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, and the inevitable crash in mood and energy and hunger pangs that follow.
Should I skip breakfast?
Where does time-restricted eating fit into all this? If you are someone who has learned about the health benefits that shortening your daily eating window can have on your health, and currently skip breakfast as a way of doing it, you might want to think again.
“Research on circadian rhythms suggests that an earlier time-restricted eating framework – meaning your eating window starts earlier in the day – may confer better health benefits,” says Ferguson. “This aligns with the body’s natural rhythms and can improve metabolic health, but it’s important to remember that it needs to fit into one’s social and family life, so some people will find that starting their day’s food intake later in the day works better for their lifestyle.”
Keeping your eating window between eight and 12 hours will help with insulin sensitivity, cognition, inflammation and weight management, plus it gives your digestive system a rest, so it’s worth considering if it does suit your lifestyle, and you want to give it a try to supercharge your health.
The breakfast debate: concluded
To breakfast or not breakfast? The answer is: do whatever works for you. If you do decide to eat breakfast, then it is the most important meal of the day to get right: ensuring it is balanced and contains lots of fibre, fats and protein, and is free from unrefined carbohydrates and sugar will set you up for a healthy day ahead.
This article was originally published on Vogue UK.