Confesses 39-year-old Jenny: “I was addicted to sugar and would grab a big bowl of sugary cereal, add a spoon or two of sugar on top and call that breakfast. By mid-morning I was starving and craving sugar.
“To get this under control I took part in a health program that stressed the importance of a healthy breakfast. Now I prepare breakfasts on a Sunday and refrigerate them.”
And the results? “I’ve dropped two dress sizes, cut my sugar cravings, stabilised my blood sugar levels, have increased levels of energy and enjoy more balanced moods.”
Jenny’s experience is backed by science. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Physiology found that regularly eating a substantial morning meal directly affects how fat cells function in the body by changing the activity of genes involved in fat metabolism and insulin resistance.
Put simply, eating a healthy breakfast helps lower the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Even if a morning meal increases calorie consumption, those calories may be offset by other energy burning benefits, helping manage weight.
“The blood sugar spikes that occur from starving yourself in the morning and then overeating due to hunger, puts a strain on the body and leads to insulin resistance and weight gain,” says nutritionist Jessica Sepel.
Skipping breakfast isn’t the way to go but eating a breakfast high in refined carbs – sugary cereal or jam on toast – can also have an adverse effect on the body. “These types of breakfasts also cause blood sugar levels to drop after an hour or two of eating, promoting hunger,” says Sepel. “This makes it much harder to keep energy levels stable without craving more sugar throughout the day.”
Many of us mistakenly rely on coffee when we wake up, believing it improves mental alertness. But based on the fact our cortisol awakening response – our stress hormones – peaks between 8am and 9am, caffeine can stimulate a further increase.
“Increasing cortisol levels when they’re already too high can lead to adrenal fatigue,” says Sepel. “But feeding the brain glucose from complex carbs helps with cognitive focus and memory through the day, and improves productivity.”
Therefore, it’s best to wait and drink your coffee between 9.30am and 11.30am when naturally circulating levels of cortisol dip.
Also, when you’re hungry you’re more likely to feel cranky. “Skipping meals affects dopamine and serotonin levels: chemicals produced in the brain that regulate feelings and mood,” says nutritionist Sandra Brastein. “When you’re ‘hangry’, this can further lead to irritability, fatigue and also headaches.”
Adds Sepel, “Eating breakfast boosts endorphins and serotonin, our feel-good hormones.” When it comes to what a healthy breakfast looks like, a 2018 CSIRO report encourages consumption of at least 25 grams of protein to manage hunger and enhance muscle metabolism. “Protein, slow energy release carbs, good fats and fibre to feed good gut bacteria are ideal for breakfast,” says Sepel.
• Bircher muesli. • Quinoa with fruit and chia. • Oats soaked overnight with zucchini or carrots and nuts. • Berry smoothie with avocado and cacao