We are in a new year and after all that feasting during the festive season, it is time to bring the focus back to healthy eating.
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, so what better way to begin the year right than by starting each day with a healthy meal?
Compared with other meals, breakfast is unique in that it can set the tone for the whole day, for better or for worse, said Ms Melanie Anthonysamy, who leads the nutrition team at digital health platform HealthifyMe.
It fuels us up for the day by giving our bodies the required nutrients, kick-starts our metabolism and helps us to concentrate better. “Having a nutritious breakfast will lead to a good start (to the day), as it creates positive energy and momentum, making it more likely that you’ll do what you need to do and do it well,” said Ms Anthonysamy.
Breakfast is important as it helps to manage a person’s energy level.
“When you wake up in the morning after going without food for at least eight to nine hours, your glycogen stores are low. Eating breakfast boosts your energy level and restores these glycogen levels to keep your metabolism up for the day,” she explained.
While it is good to start the day with breakfast, Mr Louis Yap, a senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said it is important to watch what we eat, as poor breakfast choices may increase the risk of developing heart diseases.
A balanced breakfast should contain carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Food high in nutrients include oatmeal with low-fat yogurt and fresh fruits, tuna sandwich, multi-grain cereal with low-fat milk and omelette with spinach, tomato and cheese.
Fried bee hoon, fried fritters, cakes, roti prata with sugar or curry should be avoided as they are high in saturated fat, calories and sugar, and can cause obesity and chronic diseases such as cancer.
The best time to consume breakfast is within two hours of waking up, said Ms Anthonysamy.
Having a meal within this period helps to stabilise blood sugar and regulate one’s appetite throughout the day. Going about the day with an empty stomach or having a late breakfast will lead to overeating in the next meal, she added.
Teacher Pal Singh, 35, starts every day with a hearty breakfast consisting of a slice of purple wheat bread, a bowl of wholegrain oats with low-fat milk, an apple and a glass of kale and veggie juice.
He said he feels more energetic throughout the day and does not need to snack in between meals. “I am also on track to eat healthy meals for the day, having started the day with one,” he said.
Indeed, having a healthy breakfast regularly encourages people to maintain better eating habits and makes it less likely for them to eat snacks during the day, said Ms Anthonysamy.
Studies have also shown that those who consume a healthy breakfast have a lower risk of developing obesity-related diseases and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Research has also shown that a healthy breakfast can boost brain power and improve attention and the concentration span needed for the day’s activities.
While skipping a meal in the morning is common in some intermittent fasting methods, Ms Anthonysamy advises against it as it may put a person at an increased risk of diabetes.
Not consuming breakfast affects one’s glucose metabolism and how sensitive the body is to insulin – the hormone that helps keep our blood sugar level balanced, she said.
Ms Anthonysamy said the body goes through a fasting phase while sleeping. The lack of food during this period reduces the blood glucose level and, in order to maintain a balanced level, the body activates a process called gluconeogenesis to convert amino acids (protein) into glucose.
“Over time, if one continually skips breakfast, the body will adapt to this process and the efficiency of ‘burning’ glucose for energy will be impaired, which may increase the risk of diabetes,” she added.
Mr Derrick Ong, a dietitian and founder of Eat Right Clinic & Nutrition Consultancy, said intermittent fasting that includes skipping breakfast can be dangerous for certain groups of people such as diabetics on blood sugar-lowering or insulin medication.
They may be at a greater risk of getting hypoglycaemia, also known as low blood sugar.
Pregnant women should also not skip breakfast, as the foetus needs nutrients for healthy growth, he said.
However, Mr Yap said people who have not been taking breakfast should probably remain that way.
A study in peer-reviewed journal Taylor & Francis Online in September last year found that people who have not been eating breakfast previously and start doing so may put on weight, particularly fat mass, putting them at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
But Mr Yap also stressed that the evidence remains limited due to factors such as the small sample size of the study. “What matters is that we should try to opt for healthier food,” he said.
Ms Anthonysamy agreed. “By eating a healthy breakfast, you are sending a message to yourself that you respect your body, want to take care of your health and wellbeing, and that you deserve to enjoy a good life.”
5 breakfast myths debunked
1 HAVING BREAKFAST HELPS WITH WEIGHT LOSS
Studies have shown similar weight loss for individuals who have breakfast and those who do not. There is still a lack of long-term data in this area.
Anyone on a weight loss programme should seek medical attention from doctors and dietitians to ensure that the weight loss is done in a healthy and safe manner.
2 PREPARING BREAKFAST IS TIME CONSUMING
Preparing a healthy breakfast does not take a lot of effort.
It could be as simple as cereal and low-fat milk, toast with scrambled egg, or even overnight oats to grab and go in the morning.
3 EATING BREAKFAST DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This is not true.
Eating a well balanced breakfast with the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fibre is effective in maintaining energy.
It reduces cravings throughout the day and helps boost performance and metabolism.
4 IT IS BETTER TO EAT FRUIT ON AN EMPTY STOMACH
This is not true.
Our stomach mixes the food content, whatever the sequence you consume it in. It does not necessarily mean fruit will be the first to be absorbed.
5 I DON'T MOVE MUCH IN THE MORNING, SO I DON'T NEED TO EAT BREAKFAST
This is a common misconception.
Our organs require energy to function well at all times.
- Source: Ms Melanie Anthonysamy, nutrition team lead at digital health platform HealthifyMe, and Mr Louis Yap, a senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.