The age-old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn't that far from the truth. Research continues to suggest that a well-balanced morning meal can offer a variety of health benefits. Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of breakfast is its role in maintaining a healthy weight. Studies have shown that breakfast eaters tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and are less likely to be overweight compared to non-breakfast eaters. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that when people spread their calories out over the day and consumed more calories at breakfast, they were less likely to be overweight. The reasoning is simple - breakfast kick-starts your metabolism after fasting overnight, allows you to manage hunger and can help prevent you from making unhealthy choices when you're running on empty.
Aside from weight control, breakfast also serves as one of the main opportunities during the day to stock up on important nutrients. Choosing healthy breakfast foods is an easy way to boost your daily intake of important vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. In fact one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that breakfast eaters tend to have higher intakes of calcium and fibre, while people who opt for breakfast cereal in the morning have higher intakes of iron, folic acid and vitamin C.
Research has shown that breakfast eaters are better able to pay attention throughout the day due to increased energy levels. A review of 47 studies found that breakfast consumption improved cognition related to memory and school attendance. So what counts as a healthy breakfast? Well, since breakfast is the meal that breaks the overnight fast, it's important to include a variety of foods to provide both immediate and long-term energy. The four main food groups to focus on at breakfast are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and protein. Including foods from three of these four food groups at breakfast is an easy way to ensure you're getting a well-rounded meal that will be both satisfying and nutritious.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains - such as whole grain bread or high-fibre cereal - tend to provide a quick source of energy. Whereas dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and labneh, as well as protein foods such as beans, lean meat, fish, nut butters and eggs provide staying power that will help you feel full for longer. The pitfall of many convenience breakfast foods - whether it's a high-fat muffin or sugar-laden breakfast cereal - is that they offer a lot of calories without the benefit of important vitamins, minerals and fibre. These empty calories can leave you feeling hungry by the time midmorning rolls around, meaning you're more likely to reach for unhealthy snack foods to hold you over until lunch.
While breakfast cereal is a standby for many, it can be either a friend or foe depending on what's in the box. If you tend to reach for a high-fibre cereal at breakfast time, you're making a wise choice. Research has shown that high-fibre breakfast cereal consumption is associated with overall lower fat intake and a lower body weight. Studies have also shown that people who eat a high fibre cereal at breakfast tend to eat fewer calories at their next meal. The good news is packaged high-fibre cereals have come a long way over the past few years, and there are plenty of tasty options to choose from. Look for a cereal that has at least four grams of fibre and less than eight grams of sugar, per serving (the amount you intend to eat) to make sure you're making a healthy choice.
As for coffee, another breakfast staple, there's no reason it can't be part of a healthy breakfast - as long as you don't load it up with cream and sugar and consume it in moderation. That means two to three cups per day. Living in the UAE means there's plenty to choose from. Whether it's ful medames, low fat labneh, olive oil and zaatar with half a piece of fresh bread, fresh vegetables, a hard boiled egg or a handful of dried dates, there's no shortage of healthy breakfast foods to help you get your day started.