Breakfast is an essential meal of the day since it is after a rather long night fast (7 to 10 hours) as well as before a day full of activities. Breakfast will then have two roles: to recover from the nocturnal fast and to bring energy for the day’s activities.
The ideal balanced breakfast
According to the National Nutrition and Health Programme (NNHP), the ideal breakfast consists of:
- A cereal product: bread, rusks, breakfast cereals, oat flakes
- A portion of fruit: fresh fruit to crunch, compote, or 100% fruit juice
- A dairy product: milk, yoghurts, cheese
- A drink: tea, herbal tea, coffee (preferably without sugar).
In the following section, I will present the different benefits of these food groups recommended by the NNHP, and I will introduce you to other food groups that would also benefit from being part of a balanced breakfast. You will then better understand why breakfast is so important!
Fruit is an indispensable part of the ideal breakfast thanks to its richness in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Vitamin C in particular, which helps to reduce fatigue and stimulate the immune system. Fibre helps to regulate transit and weight and to prevent certain illnesses: diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
I recommend that you always add one piece of fruit to your breakfast, especially if you don’t usually eat any during the day.
The choice is yours: seasonal fruit, pressed fruit, 100% pure fruit juice, or smoothies.
Little reminder: fruit yoghurts and jams do not count as a portion of fruit because they contain little fruit and often a lot of sugar!
There are numerous tasty fruits to choose from: bananas, raspberries, strawberries, kiwis, mangoes, pineapples, apples, pears, oranges, clementines, peaches, apricots … Ideally, you should look to favor local, seasonal and organic products.
The cereal product
A cereal product is a must for breakfast as it provides long-term energy and helps to recover from night-time fasting. Avoid industrial products such as biscuits, breakfast cereals and cakes as well as pastries which are often very rich in sugar and fat. Instead, opt for muesli-type cereals or bread.
The industrial and/or richer products (mentioned above) are to be reserved for the days when you wish to treat yourself, such as Sundays. Take the opportunity on these days to take your time and spend a pleasant moment surrounded by your loved ones.
There are numerous sources of cereal: oat flakes, sourdough bread, rye bread, muesli, rusks, crunchy toasts, various flours, …
The dairy product
Dairy products are recommended but not essential for everyone: children and the elderly have increased calcium and vitamin D requirements. As a result, the consumption of dairy products makes it possible to spread calcium intake over the day. For adults, dairy products are not mandatory but they remain a source of good quality protein. It will be key to consume dairy products according to your desires as well as your tolerance level.
You have the choice between different milks (whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed, cow’s milk, goat’s milk), yoghurts, skyr, and cheeses.
In the case of lactose intolerance or an allergy to cow’s milk protein, vegetable drinks and vegetable yoghurts are a very good alternative. Especially since these drinks are now enriched with calcium. Be careful to pick those without added sugars.
A drink (hot or cold) whether tea, herbal tea, orange juice or coffee is essential for a balanced breakfast. Milk does not count as a drink but as a food thanks to its nutritional values. The drink helps rehydrate the body after night-time fasting as well as spread your water intake over the day.
Whether you opt for a cold or hot drink, always prioritise unsweetened ones! If the beverage options are not to your liking, a large glass of water is also a great option.
In addition to these four elements, breakfast may also consist of one serving of meat, fish or egg (MFE). A good quality breakfast will help you avoid staying hungry in the morning. Accordingly, proteins have a satietogenic effect that will help prevent untimely snacking.
You can have ham, chicken breast, eggs (poached, boiled, fried, scrambled), … If you prefer vegetarian options, tofu is a great alternative to animal protein.
Other foods can also be included in a balanced and healthy breakfast:
- Oleaginous seeds and fruits (chia, flax, pumpkin, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, …). They are a source of quality fats such as omega 3 and vitamin E, a natural antioxidant. They are also rich in fibre and therefore contribute to ones satiety.
- Fats (butter, vegetable oils). Butter is a good source of vitamin D and A whereas oils are rich in vitamin E, omega 6 and 9.
- A sweet product (jam, honey, maple syrup, spread) because we must not forget about the pleasure of eating.
What are the benefits of having breakfast?
We often hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but what are the reasons? Here is a list of the benefits of breakfast:
- A balanced breakfast provides you with lots of energy that will last you all morning.
- It increases productivity: indeed, having breakfast in the morning increases concentration and memorization thanks to the carbohydrates provided. As a result, we have the energy we need to think, learn or work.
- Eating breakfast reduces the risk of deficiencies and allows you to spread your energy intake over the day. It is an opportunity for your body to receive nutrients that are essential to the functioning of your body such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. People who have a habit of skipping breakfast will have a higher risk of deficiencies in the long term and all the more so if their diet is unbalanced.
- Eating breakfast reduces snacking (if it is balanced and not too sweet). Indeed, a bowl of industrial cereals will not be sufficient in terms of nutrients and will call for a sweetened consumption in the following hours.
- Accordinlgy, a balanced breakfast facilitates a balanced diet!
Examples of healthy, balanced and delicious breakfasts
Breakfast can be made in many different ways, be creative and follow your desires! Sweet or savoury, there is something for everyone:
- Porridge: oat flakes boiled in water or milk. Add honey, spices, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, nuts, fresh fruit, …
- Bowlcake: mix oat flakes with a whole egg, a little milk and the supplements you like (wholemeal sugar, cinnamon, honey, chocolate, banana, …). It is cooked in a bowl for a few minutes in the microwave. As for the porridge, add peanut butter, fresh fruit, compote, …
- Avocado toast with squeezed orange juice. You can add a slice of smoked salmon or a poached egg for a high protein breakfast.
- English breakfast (cherry tomatoes, beans, fried egg and sourdough bread)
- Homemade rice pudding with fresh fruit and crushed hazelnuts
- Homemade pancakes, thousands of recipes exist: find your own!
- A french classic: bowl of cottage cheese with muesli and fresh fruit
- Bread toasts, vary the toppings: butter + jam, banana + peanut butter, honey + almond butter, cheese + cherry tomatoes, cottage cheese + kiwi.
- Scrambled eggs, wholemeal bread with orange juice and yoghurt
Mix the alternatives together and don’t forget the different components:
- A drink
- Un carbohydrate
- A fruit
- Un protein based and/or sweetened product.
It’s up to you now!
Article written by Romane Guerot, dietician at Foodvisor.