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This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

Breakfast has long been touted as the “most important meal of the day”, yet millions in the UK skip breakfast on a regular basis. Breakfast eaters have been reported to show better cognitive function, be less depressed, eat a better diet for the rest of the day and have a lower boy mass index than people who skip breakfast (Reeves et al, 2011). However, there is limited information relating breakfasting habits to measures of health and wellbeing across the UK and there is also a lack of general scientific agreement regarding what type of food should be consumed. It is mostly agreed that balancing blood glucose levels is key in the morning for a number of reasons but numerous intermittent fasting studies suggest that, skipping breakfast and extending the overnight fast to 16 hours, allows blood sugar levels and insulin levels to decrease, leading to fat stores being used for energy and aiding in maintaining a weight loss. This being said, most studies agreed that breakfast is important when not dieting to maintain cognitive function and boost mood.

What are the benefits of eating breakfast?

  • Habit and activity levels - One study by Reeves et al (2011), found that those eating breakfast every day got up earlier by 20 minutes during the week and 35 minutes during the weekend, compared to those eating breakfast less regularly. Physically active respondents considered breakfast to be an important precursor to physical activity. They also found no difference in waist circumference or BMI between breakfast eaters and non-eaters. Reeves and her team concluded that a majority of UK adults have breakfast regularly and these individuals tend to be slightly more conscientious and show slightly higher levels of wellbeing due to the breakfast habits they engaged in. This allowed breakfast eaters to engage in higher levels of physical activity, something which is key to maintaining high levels of health and wellbeing.

  • Lowering stress levels - A number of studies have also found a relationship between breakfast consumption and a higher sense of wellbeing. Smith (1998) found that individuals who consumed a cereal breakfast each day were less depressed, less emotionally distressed and had lower levels of perceived stress than those who did not eat breakfast. Smith expanded on this study in 2002, looking at stress levels, breakfast cereal consumption and cortisol. He found that stress was associated with higher cortisol levels and daily consumption of breakfast cereal was associated with lower cortisol levels.

  • Maintaining a healthy BMI - A systematic review by Hunty, Gibson and Ashwell (2013) also found that children and adolescents who consumed a regular breakfast were less likely to be overweight and had a lower BMI. Following a long night of sleep, your body wakes in a fasted state and thus replenishing your supply of glucose to boost energy levels and alertness is very important.

  • Depression and quality of life - A study of 527 Spanish adolescents examined the association between breakfast, perceived stress, depression and health-related quality of life. It was found that the quality of breakfast consumed was the most important thing. Ferrer-Cascales et al (2018) found that it was better to eat no breakfast at all compared to a very poor-quality breakfast, which was associated with higher stress levels, and poor health-related quality of life. This was further supported by a number of other studies, suggesting that the food we eat at breakfast is vitally important to our mood. It can be both positive and negative if we chose the wrong foods.

Which breakfast choices work best?

As noted, it is key to select the right foods for breakfast. Numerous studies found that it was better to eat no breakfast compared to a breakfast high in saturated fats, trans fats and refined sugars. It is important to ensure all bases are covered as follows:

  • Low GI foods are key - Following a long night of sleep, your body wakes in a fasted state and thus replenishing your supply of glucose to boost energy levels and alertness is very important. Foods high on the glycemic index (GI) cause a “spike and crash” in our sugar levels, leaving us feeling low energy and low mood. Low GI foods include whole grains such as porridge oats, dairy products such as eggs and fruits such as blueberries, oranges and apples.

  • Nutrient rich foods – Key nutrients in the morning include folate, calcium, iron, Vitamin B and fibre. Scientists have compiled a list of Brain Essential Nutrients (BEN) which, whilst including the above, also include Omega-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids, magnesium and vitamins B1, B9, B12, D and E. Flax seed, strawberries, eggs and tuna are a great way to get an increase of Omega-3 PUFAs in the morning or these can be taken as supplements. Magnesium is key for nerve impulse conduction, calcium is vital for neurotransmitter release in the brain as well as boosting our memory. Our best source in the morning is with a glass of milk or a lovely milky latte.

  • Fibre rich foods – Fibre rich foods can introduce prebiotics to our gut, “good bacterial that help to keep our digestive system healthy. With the importance of the gut-brain axis now more apparent then ever, it is vital we keep our guts healthy. The feedback between our gut and our brain can affect mood and hormonal levels. Foods such as bananas, wholegrains, oatmeal, legumes and probiotic yogurt are great for a more smoothie!

Conclusion

It has been discussed that no breakfast is better than a nutrient poor start to the day. A poor breakfast would include refined foods such as pancakes, waffles, highly refined breakfast cereals, muffins and white breads. A combination of all of the above factors will lead to a well-balance breakfast, high in key nutrients and supporting better quality consumption across the rest of the day. Those who eat breakfast were said to be less likely to smoke cigarettes, drank less alcohol and had a significantly healthier diet (Smith, 1998). Studies have shown us that better mental health was related to regular breakfast consumption. Additionally, we may also assume that more mentally stable individuals practicing more healthy behaviours were more likely to eat breakfast regularly than those who were displaying more neurotic characteristics. In short, a healthy breakfast sets us up for a positive day, both mentally, physically and emotionally.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

Ferrer-Cascales, R., Sánchez-SanSegundo, M., Ruiz-Robledillo, N., Albaladejo-Blázquez, N., Laguna-Pérez, A., & Zaragoza-Martí, A. (2018). Eat or Skip Breakfast? The Important Role of Breakfast Quality for Health-Related Quality of Life, Stress and Depression in Spanish Adolescents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(8), 1781. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15081781

Kamada, I., Truman, L., Bold, J., & Mortimore, D. (2011). The impact of breakfast in metabolic and digestive health. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, 4(2), 76–85.

Reeves, Halsey, McMeel, Huber. (2011). Breakfast habits and Health in a Nationally Representative UK Sample. European Nutrition Conference.

Smith, A.P. (1998). Breakfast and mental health. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 49 (5), 397-402.

Breakfast

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