Good nutrition and breakfast: what’s the connection?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Avocado and eggs

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Apparently, a certain breakfast manufacturer convinced us of this many years ago (contributing to the ongoing, highly successful sales of sugary breakfast cereals today…)

When I was a teenager I rarely ate breakfast, yet now it’s one of my favourite meals.

So what’s the deal? Should or shouldn’t we eat breakfast every day?

If you are not yet an adult, the answer is simple: yes, you probably should have breakfast every day. Children and teenagers don’t have the same ability to store nutrients as adults, so after your usual overnight fast while you sleep, your body is ready to be topped up.

Among teenagers, research has shown eating breakfast is likely to lead to improved grades and less mental distress. Why? Breakfast can provide key nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates, which break down into glucose, which the brain needs for fuel.
  • Calcium, needed for neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers which send information from our brain throughout our body, impacting our mood, our ability to move, to feel, to think and much, much more.
  • B vitamins such as B1 and B6, which play a role in our attention and focus, help us make neurotransmitters and help us convert carbohydrates to fuel.
  • Folate and iron, which help us build and use neurotransmitters.

A 2009 study of over 800 teenagers* found higher quality breakfast was associated with better mental health. What’s a higher quality breakfast? In this study, the quality was assessed by how many of the five key food groups were included at breakfast:

  • Breads and cereals
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Dairy (including soya)
  • Meat and meat alternatives

The more food groups included, the higher the breakfast quality, the better mental health score received.

Mental health is clearly much more complex than simply being related to what you ate for breakfast. But, if you can improve your mood, concentration, focus and energy throughout the day just by making good breakfast choices, then why not eat breakfast more often?

What are some good breakfast choices?

  • Wholegrain toast with avocado and eggs/sliced tomato/fetta.
  • Oats or muesli made up of wholegrains, nuts and seeds without added sugar (which means you can skip most of the breakfast aisle in the supermarket!), topped with Greek yoghurt and mixed berries.
  • Omelette or frittata with baby spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, asparagus and capsicum or whatever veggies you like.
  • Smoothie combining your favourite milk (dairy or plant based – just remember to look for calcium-fortified if choosing a plant-based milk) with fruit, nut butter and if you’re being really adventurous, a handful of greens such as baby spinach or kale.
  • If you’re adding meat or meat alternatives to breakfast, choose lean meat options or least-processed alternatives such as tofu or tempeh. Processed meats such as ham and bacon should be occasional rather than regular options.

I have three teenage children. Two of them eat breakfast every day, while the third is a bit sporadic. But his mood, energy and focus are definitely better if he eats before heading out the door to school.

If you are a regular breakfast skipper, I challenge you to try breakfast every day for a week and see how you feel. And if you are a regular breakfast consumer, have a look at what you are eating and see whether you need to boost your intake with an extra food group or two – then take note of how you feel throughout the day as a result.

As to my original question – is breakfast the most important meal of the day? I think all main meals are important, all deserve equal attention and all should be enjoyable!

For personalised nutritional guidance to help improve your appetite for breakfast, support your energy, or improve your concentration, call me for an obligation-free, exploratory chat about how I can help you (0407 477 176), or book an appointment via my Consultations page here.

Develop a positive relationship with food