Friday, August 9, 2013

Rescuing the breakfast habit

Breaking the fast is essential for health… but what to eat?

Recent US research shows that people who skip breakfast are 27% more likely to have heart problems than those who start the day with a meal.1  This large study of over 25,000 US men is yet another reminder of the importance of breakfast in a healthy eating pattern. Despite the persuasive evidence for eating breakfast daily, there is a growing number of Australians who are skipping breakfast – currently one in ten school kids, one quarter of teenagers and two thirds of adults skip breakfast.2,3 Here we discuss why every Australian should start the day with breakfast and also provide guidance on breakfast food choices with a word on the hotly debated place of liquid breakfasts.  

What’s so special about breakfast? It’s the first opportunity to supply the body and brain with the essential nutrients after a night’s sleep. Based on the Australian National Nutrition Survey of 1995 we know that breakfast eaters are more likely to have an adequate diet and are twice as likely to get enough protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, thiamine and riboflavin.4,5  Breakfast eaters are also more likely to be slimmer,6,7  have more control over their appetite,7,8   have a lower risk of disease and experience better cognitive performance9,10,11 - for kids this mean better performance at school.

Despite the convincing benefits to enjoy breakfast daily, society has changed and Australians are leading busier lives which is putting more and more pressure on ‘the most important meal of the day’.12  Today, when breakfast is eaten it is the fastest meal of the day, and when it is skipped, a lack of time is one of the top reasons given.13  In an ideal world we would all spend a relaxed 10 minutes to fuel our bodies, muscles and brain first thing in the morning, however the reality is that many people are looking for whatever is quick, tasty and hits the spot.

So what’s quick, tasty, hits the spot AND provides essential nutrition to start the day? We know that the foods you eat at breakfast influence your mood, physical and mental performance, weight, and your general and long-term health.4,5,7,11,14-15 Choosing foods from the core food groups (grain foods, fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives and dairy) is a sure way to start the day providing your body with a variety of nutrients. While breakfast choices may vary considerably between people and cultures some common breakfast options which are ideal include breakfast cereals, porridge, milk, yoghurt, fruit, breads, eggs, and legumes (e.g. baked beans). These food choices are nutritious and also meet the essential criteria for many busy Australians of being easily prepared, tasty and cost effective.

In particular grain foods are a favourite of many Australians at breakfast time, and around half of all Australians eat breakfast cereal most or every morning.3 Research supports breakfast cereal consumption as a good option for breakfast; people who eat breakfast cereal have better nutrient intakes,4,5 tend to be slimmer7,11, have a lower risk of chronic diseases16,17,18  and have improved cognitive performance.11,19 By making smart grain food choices at breakfast such as choosing whole grain or high fibre you can significantly boost your fibre intake and contribute to your whole grain daily target intake. This could be as easy as a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal with milk and fruit, or whole grain bread with eggs or baked beans.

A word on liquid breakfasts…

Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM encourages Australians to make time to eat a breakfast based on the core food groups including grain foods (mostly whole grain or high fibre), dairy, fruit, eggs, and legumes like baked beans every day. However, as more Australians are skipping breakfast, there is an increasing demand for breakfast options which can be consumed on the run and outside of the home; which has seen the growth of the liquid breakfast category. Nutritionally, liquid breakfasts are similar to flavoured milk, often with added fibre, vitamins and minerals – and while they contribute important nutrients they do not replace a breakfast based on the core food groups. In saying this, for children or adults at risk of skipping breakfast, liquid breakfast offer an occasional option which is convenient and provides important nutrition on some days.


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2. Flinders University. Analysis 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition & Physical Activity Survey for Kellogg Australia. 2009 unpublished.
3. Cereal Social Trends Report 2012. Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum
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