If your morning routine does not include eating breakfast, you may want to reconsider how you start your day. A mounting body of evidence is proving that breakfast has both short- and long-term health benefits that you can't get from other meals.
With summer holidays and Ramadan both having ended in the past few weeks and schools across the country back in session, there's no better time to get on the healthy breakfast bandwagon - especially for schoolchildren.
Research shows that people who eat breakfast are better able to pay attention and concentrate throughout the day. In fact, a review of 47 studies published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005 found that breakfast consumption improved cognitive function related to memory and test grades, as well as school attendance in children and adolescents.
Improved cognitive function is not the only benefit of breakfast. Research shows breakfast eaters tend to have overall healthier diets and higher intakes of important nutrients. One of the first studies on the subject, published in the same journal in 1995, analysed data from more than 240,000 people and found that individuals who regularly eat breakfast consume up to 68 per cent more folate, 33 per cent more fibre and 50 per cent more vitamin C than non-breakfast eaters. Researchers also found that people who make time for the morning meal additionally get more calcium, iron and vitamin E in their diets. These findings were especially true for people who eat breakfast cereal, which is often fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of the morning meal is its role in weight loss and maintenance. According to Rania Al Halawani, a dietician at MedGate Centre in Dubai, breakfast can help with weight loss by kick-starting the metabolism.
She says breakfast "activates the metabolic rate in your body so you will burn more calories and this will increase your weight loss". Studies consistently show that breakfast-eaters tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and are less likely to be overweight compared with non-breakfast eaters. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 found that people who consistently skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood had waists that were, on average, five centimetres larger than those of people who always ate breakfast.
According to Zeina Elhoss, a clinical dietician at Live'ly Health and Nutrition Lounge in Dubai, "skipping breakfast is a common strategy among people trying to lose weight, but certainly not a good one".
She explains that the "body expects to be refuelled several times each day - starting with breakfast". In fact, research shows that eating breakfast is a characteristic common to people who have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off. One study published in the journal Obesity Research in 2002 from researchers at the University of Colorado health sciences centre in the US, found that of 3,000 adults who had successfully lost at least 13kg, 78 per cent of them reported eating breakfast every day of the week.
Not surprisingly, research indicates that your breakfast choices can influence hunger and calorie consumption later in the day. Al Halawani agrees, saying people who eat a healthy breakfast tend to eat much more healthily through the day and are less likely to binge on food when they are hungry. For example, a study published in the journal Nutrition Research in 2010 reported that eating eggs for breakfast could reduce hunger and decrease calorie consumption throughout the day. Researchers found that when men ate an egg-based breakfast, they consumed 112 fewer calories at a lunch buffet three hours later and 400 fewer calories over the course of the day compared with when they ate a carbohydrate-rich bagel breakfast of equal calories.
So what should you eat for your morning meal? It goes without saying that not all breakfast foods are created equal. If your idea of breakfast is a rich, buttery croissant smothered in chocolate, you are asking for trouble. Balance and portion control are key. The American Dietetic Association recommends using three building blocks to create a healthy breakfast: protein, wholegrains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Start with protein
Protein is essential to breaking the overnight fast and providing long-lasting energy that will sustain you until your next meal. Protein choices contain the lowest amount of calories and saturated fat, yet still have staying power to keep your energy levels up. Lean protein choices include low-fat dairy products such as yogurt or labneh drizzled with olive oil, egg whites, cheese, and beans, such as ful medames (fava beans).
Add some wholegrains
Whole-grains provide a range of important vitamins and minerals - and are also an excellent source of fibre. Zeina Elhoss recommends having a source of fibre with the morning meal because it helps "satisfy your hunger and will keep you feeling full until lunchtime". Whole-grain breakfast foods include whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pitta with za'atar, muffins, pancakes and waffles made with whole-wheat flour and hot cereal made with a whole grain, such as oatmeal. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals can also be a good choice, due in part to the fact that they are usually eaten with sliced fruit and milk, which help boost the nutrient content of the morning meal. What's more, most breakfast cereals available in the UAE are fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid and vitamin D, including Kellogg's Raisin Bran, Weetabix Fruit & Fibre and Kashi Heart to Heart. But, if you've ever browsed a supermarket cereal aisle, you know that breakfast cereals can range from the sugar-coated to heart-healthy high-fibre cereal. To help distinguish the good from the bad, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest recommends choosing a breakfast cereal with at least three grams of fibre, no more than eight grams of sugar and three grams of fat per serving.
Round it off with fresh fruit and vegetables
Finally, round out a healthy breakfast with fresh fruit and vegetables. Enjoy fresh fruit on its own, or add it to cereal, a yogurt parfait or a homemade smoothie. As for vegetables, dip them into your hummus or chop them up and add them to an omelette.
And if you are rushed in the mornings, consider these time-saving tips to ensure a healthy breakfast is part of your routine every day of the week.
Get out the pan for an omelette or the blender for a smoothie the night before to save precious minutes in the morning. Better yet - make breakfast the night before and reheat as necessary when you wake up.
Take it with you
Assemble foods that can be eaten in the car, on the bus or even at your desk. Try a breakfast wrap - stuff a whole-grain tortilla or flatbread with sliced banana and peanut butter.
Make a nutrient-rich smoothie that you can take with you when you leave the house. Blend low-fat milk with frozen berries, a banana and some sliced almonds for a protein boost.
Keep it simple
There's no need to make things complicated. Sometimes the simplest breakfasts are the healthiest. Enjoy a handful of walnuts, a few dates and a glass of milk for a quick and easy breakfast.
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy and convenient breakfast foods, such as the right kind of cereal, fresh fruit, eggs, whole-grain bread, nut butters and cheese.