Breakfast Lowdown - is it really the most important meal of the day?
Breakfast is a big deal in our house. Sam has declared it is his favourite meal so much so that he is motivated to get all the breakfast things out onto the table, whilst I shuffle, one eye shut into the kitchen to facilitate his self- serve technique.
Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day but is this really true and is skipping it a problem? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Interestingly research does show that breakfast skippers have lower intakes of fibre and certain vitamins and minerals and high intakes of fat and saturated fat.1
In studies where they’ve looked at the impact of campaigns aiming to boost breakfast consumption in school children, the quality of the diet has improved significantly with the addition of breakfast.2
Breakfast skippers are more likely to have raised cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels3 and children who skip it are more likely to gain weight compared to children that always eat it.
From a concentration perspective, breakfast is fueling our brains after the nighttime fast; children who eat breakfast have better attention and improved mental performance at school which lasts throughout the morning4 - hopefully the teachers will thank us!
So far, I’d say that’s enough reasons to make breakfast part of your day, but when you consider the options for breakfast and start making your way down that cereal aisle, it can become confusing to know what is best.
Sugar is often at the forefront of our minds, particularly as we’re aware that ready to eat cereals are one food category where sugar is often added, both as a preservative and a flavour enhancer. With breakfast cereals I think it’s always important to give context. When we look at where sugar comes from in the diets of our children, breakfast cereals make up about 5-8% of their sugar intake. In 4-10 year old’s desserts, biscuits, cakes, confectionery and soft drinks categories each provide double the amount of sugar than that coming from breakfast cereals.5
It’s also worth bearing in mind the other nutrients that we can gain from a bowl of breakfast cereal. Firstly, the milk component adds valuable calcium and other minerals to their diet, and if we make the right choices, breakfast cereals can also provide an important source of fibre and vitamin D. Research also shows cereals are responsible for around 15% of our B vitamin and iron requirements.6
To strike the right balance, try to choose cereals with a high fibre content. Sugar will always be present but if values are around 15g/100g ‘of which sugars’ or less then that’s fine. It is also relevant to portion size as a typical child’s portion might be 25-35g. I have to confess Sam’s first bowl might be this size, but he does go on to have a second. Not sure this means he concentrates twice as hard though!
But what if your children just aren’t breakfast cereal lovers? Cereals do seem to rule the breakfast market, but in reality, there are many other options, especially for weekends when you may have more time. These would be my top picks:
Certainly, the breakfast habit is one I hope my children continue to embrace. There are so many benefits for their hearts, health and heads!
1 J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; 110:869-878
2 Health Educ Res (2011) 26: 1086-1096
3 Public Health Nutrition (2012) 16: 2073-2082
5 NDNS 2014
6 Journal of Royal Society of Health 115(6); 366-370