What's the healthiest breakfast?

Six Hong Kong healthand fitness experts tellNadine Bateman how to make more of the most important meal of the day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2012, 11:01am

Dr Simon Yeung, expert in physiotherapy and ergonomics Yeung is an associate professor in the department of rehabilitation sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. A keen athlete, he is senior vice-chairman of the Amateur Athletics Association and sits on other sports committees.

His breakfast often includes oatmeal or cereal, toast and sometimes macaroni with ham in soup, which he says is "a typical Chinese breakfast". He also has milk - usually 95 per cent fat-free cow's milk or sometimes soya milk.

He believes carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body, especially if you exercise a lot. He recommends that most people should consume five to seven grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight per day.

Protein intake for the average person should be 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, and 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for athletes. Protein should be consumed after exercise to help repair muscles and growth tissue, preferably in the form of milk, yogurt or beans. If you like eggs, Yeung says to eat the whites only as the yolk "has too much fat".

Moosa Al-Issa, chef and cafe owner Al-Issa is a chef and the owner of organic vegan restaurant Life Cafe in Central. He's not a vegetarian himself and strives to create breakfasts that are satisfying, nutritionally balanced and visually appealing. "You eat with your eyes first," he says.

His dishes include ones that are "close to the traditional fry-up", which include vegetarian sausages and bacon. He believes a good breakfast needs to include a balance of all the food groups - and that's the reason why "traditional" breakfasts work so well.

Life Cafe's generous breakfasts appeal to non-vegetarians, too, says Al-Issa. A disclaimer: his dishes aren't low fat. "Who wants a low-fat breakfast? I like to produce food that everybody likes, not just preach to the converted," he says.

Linds Russell (above), personal trainer and endurance athlete

Russell works with group fitness training company Circuit 25 and was part of an all-women team that finished second at the recent Oxfam Trailwalker 100-kilometre race.

She's up at 5.30am most days and that's when she has the first of two breakfasts. "I do a lot of training and I don't want to be starving by lunchtime and end up eating too much," she says.

Her first breakfast is a cocktail of nutrient-dense ingredients: coconut water, because it's "full of electrolytes and is a natural sweetener"; something green, such as fresh or frozen kale or spinach; berries or banana; wholegrain oats, soaked overnight so they are easier to digest; a raw plant-based protein such as bean sprouts or brown rice.

Half a teaspoon of coconut oil is also added, which she says helps weight loss by boosting the metabolism, fortifies the immune system and has antibacterial properties to help improve her skin, which can be affected by being outdoors a lot in the pollution and dirt.

Sometimes she adds cocoa powder or maca powder, derived from a Peruvian root said to be a superfood with a high vitamin and mineral content that benefits the endocrine system.

"This super smoothie sets me up for a morning of working with clients," says Russell. Her second breakfast is eaten around 7am and may comprise eggs on rye bread with spinach.

Anne Knecht-Boyer, triathlete
Knecht-Boyer, 54, is a top age group triathlete who has competed at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.

By January, Knecht-Boyer will have increased her weekly training from the current eight to 10 hours a week to 16 to 18 hours. It's a gruelling schedule in which nutrition plays a huge part. "I have to maintain a healthy weight to keep my energy levels up," she says.

Before her morning run at 6.30am she has a banana and an energy gel, washed down with a cup of chamomile tea. After her run, she has a large bowl of organic oatmeal cereal mixed with berries, honey and full-fat Swiss yogurt, followed by a glass of fresh fruit juice.

Before a long bike ride (up to five hours), she eats half a toasted bagel spread with butter, peanut butter and Nutella, plus a banana.

On the day of a race, she eats a bowl of oatmeal muesli with hot milk about two hours before. Then she munches on energy bars that contain granola.

Miles Price, holistic nutritionist

Price has a master's degree in clinical nutrition from Hawthorn University in the US and works at Life Clinic in Central.

He says an individual's nutritional needs depend on factors such as circadian rhythms and the body's level of cortisol, the hormone that is affected by physical or emotional stress. But generally, he believes the healthiest breakfast should be protein-rich.

"Protein is an activator of your metabolism - it takes energy to digest but also creates energy. Eggs are a good source of protein for breakfast because they contain the all-important amino acids and are a source of several nutrients - including zinc, copper, choline and cholesterol - which promote brain function and seratonin [or 'feel-good' hormone] production."

The way in which the eggs are prepared is crucial: they are best poached. "When the yolk is overcooked it can become oxidised and convert to bad cholesterol," says Price. "The yolk is the most nutrient-dense part of the egg."

Other cooking suggestions include "sunny side up", cooked in coconut oil or scrambled, but definitely not hard boiled.

Price also recommends asparagus because it contains compounds including the antioxidant glutathione, that boost the body's ability to detox. Asparagus also contains vitamins B6, A, C and E and calcium. He says blanching the asparagus and adding butter helps to convert the carotenes it contains into vitamin A.

He also recommends adding spinach which has been wilted for around 20 to 30 seconds to neutralise the phytates, which bind with minerals and prevent their absorption, but also have anti-inflammatory effects and are believed to help normalise cell growth. Spinach also contains vitamins A, C and K, manganese and phosphorous.

Sylvia Lam, dietitian

Lam is the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Dietitians Association. She says breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons: it replenishes nutrients needed for the day after a night's rest; it boosts metabolism; it provides a third of nutrients for the day; it can provide sugar that the brain needs to function; and it prevents you from eating excessively at lunchtime.

"One should have a complete nutritionally wholesome breakfast by having some carbohydrates, protein, fibre and good fats," says Lam. The ratio should be 50 to 55 per cent carbohydrates, 30 per cent fat and 15 to 20 per cent protein.

Examples include high-fibre cereal with skimmed milk or low-fat milk and fruit; wholewheat bread with peanut butter or olive oil spread and yogurt with fresh fruit; oatmeal made with soya milk or skimmed milk with nuts and dried fruits such as raisin or cranberries.

Chinese breakfasts can also be healthy, she says, such as 10-grain congee or buckwheat noodles in soup, both with lean meat and chopped vegetables.

Lam believes many Hongkongers choose unhealthy breakfasts and advises alternatives such as rice noodles or macaroni instead of instant noodles; ham instead of luncheon meat or sausages; boiled egg instead of fried egg; and wholegrain bread instead of buns.

Lam says she "can't live without breakfast" and will typically have a wholegrain bagel with low-fat cream cheese and jam, or oatmeal with soya milk.

It's said to be the most important meal of the day, but research shows that many people still don't eat breakfast, or if they do it's a rushed affair that's heavy on simple carbs, such as toast or a sugar-laden cereal.