Discover the importance of a good breakfast and how it can impact your metabolism.


Breakfast is crucial to good health. It’s the first meal we eat after a night’s sleep, kick starting the body back into action, or ‘breaking the fast’. The longer you go without food after waking up in the morning, the longer you are in the state of shutdown your body adopts during sleep.

“When people skip breakfast they are putting their body into a prolonged fasting state,” says accredited practising dietitian Lisa Renn.

“That is, they haven’t eaten anything since the previous night’s dinner and are asking their bodies to hold off without food for even longer. When this occurs regularly the body is forced to slow its metabolism down in order to conserve energy. The result is usually weight gain.”

The US National Weight Control Registry bears this out, showing that of those people who have lost more than 30 pounds (around 14 kilograms) and kept it off for more than a year, 90 per cent reported eating breakfast most days of the week.

Breakfast is also the meal farthest away from our next sleep, which means the body has lots of time to digest and metabolise what we ate for breakfast throughout the day. So you can eat more and gain less.
It’s why it’s important to eat ‘the breakfast of a king, the lunch of a prince and the dinner of a pauper’. We don’t have time to metabolise a heavy, late dinner before we go to sleep at night. On the other hand, breakfast gives us all the energy we need to lead active lives during the day.

Breakfast improves alertness, concentration, mental performance and memory,” Renn says. “It can also help improve a person’s mood – that’s why people get tired and irritable when they miss breakfast.
“The optimum breakfast will come from a low GI, high fibre carbohydrate source that is low in saturated fat and sodium. Ideally fruit or vegetables will form part of the mix, and it is a good idea to include a low-fat dairy or dairy-equivalent product.”

The spice of life
Some women don’t feel they can stomach a big breakfast – for many it is the most unappealing meal of the day. The repetitive and routine nature of the meal – cereal or toast each day, without much variation – can be an issue, as can the pressure to eat on the run. For many busy women it’s a question of simply ‘forcing something down’ on the way out the door.

Because of a declining respect for the meal itself, brought about by the way we order our lives and the time constraints we impose as a result of juggling work, children and other commitments, breakfast just doesn’t have the variety or pleasure factor of other meals.

But it’s a very good opportunity to see food as an important fuel for the body rather than simply an indulgence, and to eat foods that are good for you. It’s also a chance to consume important nutrients like fibre, calcium, vitamin C and folate all in one go – a bowl of muesli, yoghurt and berries will achieve this in one sitting, and hopefully you’ll agree it isn’t an entirely unpleasant experience.

There are also plenty of ways to increase breakfast variety, even if you’re time-poor. Consider the range of foods available to us today that are now ‘acceptable’ for breakfast, not to mention the brunch menu of any good café.
The modern continental breakfast includes items like smoked salmon, avocado, bagels, ricotta pancakes, cheeses, bruschetta, fruit compotes – and none of these need too much time to prepare.

A traditional breakfast
Eggs are high in protein and nutrients and are the classic cooked breakfast food. They are easy to prepare, and not as high in cholesterol as you may think.

But to play it safe, stick to the National Heart Foundation’s recommendations and limit your egg consumption to six a week. Boiling, poaching and scrambling (without cream) are the best low-fat preparation options for eggs. Omelettes can add variety – try fillings such as potato, pumpkin, cheese and tomato.

It is now also possible to purchase very lean or soy bacon. Grill or barbeque to ensure the fat drips off during cooking, or use a non-stick pan. A healthy vegetarian variation, or an addition for omnivores, is to add baked beans and vegetables like spinach or mushroom to increase the nutrient content of your cooked breakfast.

Ultimately, however, bacon and eggs is simply not a viable option seven days a week. If you eat this sort of breakfast every day, you are not only consuming high levels of sodium and saturated fat, but you risk missing out on dietary fibre and calcium.

Renn suggests overcoming this by mixing up your breakfast options, saving the cooked breakfast for the weekend and having a high fibre cereal with low-fat milk, a low-fat smoothie, a bowl of porridge or pancakes with yoghurt and berries during the week.

“The more variety in your food intake, the more likely you are to get the right balance of nutrients,” she says.

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