A healthy start

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 July, 2010, 12:00am

Danon asks: Some older people say you shouldn't eat too much in the morning. Is this true?

Wynnie says: According to some traditional beliefs, our overnight fast should be broken slowly, since our digestive 'fire' is just waking up and won't run at full capacity until the sun is high in the sky - from noon to 2pm. They suggest that breakfast should be a light and digestible meal, and lunch be the largest, most important meal of the day.

Health experts suggest that breakfast should provide around a third of your daily dietary requirements. It's the most important meal of the day - not only does it kickstart your metabolism, but it also has the added benefit of keeping your blood sugar levels stable - and therefore your energy levels - throughout the whole morning. This prevents you from snacking on and overeating calorie-laden, sugary and fatty foods later in the day.

Studies on children's learning ability show that if a good, healthy breakfast is eaten, their work rate and output are substantially improved. School performance tests consistently show that children who eat breakfast attain higher scores in maths, memory and visual tests and creative thinking compared to those who skip the meal. They also concentrate better and are faster and more efficient at solving problems.

So what should we eat for breakfast? A healthy breakfast doesn't mean gorging on an oversized fast food meal. It should include a variety of foods and be rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre, protein and calcium and low in fat. Think whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables and dairy products. These provide the ideal fuel for the brain and body as well as being rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, nutrients that can rarely be made up for by lunch or dinner.

Check out the recommended foods and meal suggestions to ensure you start the day on a high.

Wholegrains: Wholegrain bread and cereals; reduced-fat bran muffins; wheat or bran crackers

Protein: Hard-boiled eggs; lean slices of beef, pork or chicken; smoked/ poached salmon; tuna canned in water

Dairy: Reduced-fat milk, low-fat yoghurt or cheese

Fruits and veggies: Fresh fruits and veggies or 100% fruit or vegetable juices without added sugar

Breakfast cereals and cereal bars: the obvious good to-go foods, but with so many to choose from, what are the best options? You need to be label savvy at the supermarket and choose one with higher fibre: look for one that provides at least 3-5g fibre per serving. Also look out for ones that don't have added sugars and contain no more than 13g sugars per serving.

Quick and easy breakfast ideas:

Oatmeal with skimmed milk, and fresh or dried fruit

Wholegrain cereal with fruit and skimmed milk

Leftover dinner; piece of fruit; glass of milk

Sliced tomato and mozzarella in a flour tortilla

Fruit smoothie with skimmed milk and wheatgerm

Wholewheat crackers/bread with low-fat cheese and a sliced apple

Baked potato/sweet potato with grated cheese and frozen mixed veggies

Soba noodles or wholewheat pasta shapes in soup with edamame and sweetcorn

Low-fat yoghurt with mixed fruit and granola

Wynnie Chan is a British-trained nutritionist. If you've got a question for her or would like to be featured in this column, e-mail nutrition@scmp.com