Most of us eat fairly regularly throughout the day and so the longest time we go without food is overnight. This means that during the night the liver will break down glycogen to release glucose into the bloodstream to continue to fuel the brain, red blood cells and other cells around the body that run on glucose. After this overnight fast blood insulin levels tend to be at their lowest, and correspondingly after eating we see the largest responses in blood glucose and insulin. This makes it particularly important that you make the right breakfast choices to set you up for the day.
I’m not a fan of the vast majority of breakfast cereals on the market. With few exceptions, they are made from flour and are highly processed. The better ones are at least made from a high percentage of wholegrains and this is certainly the first thing to look for on the pack. It is the outer parts of the grain that contain almost all of the fibre and micronutrients, while the starchy centre to the grain is the energy store of carbohydrate. So products made from primarily white flour are essentially refined starch. This is broken down very quickly in most cases and can give blood glucose rises as quickly as if you had consumed pure glucose in water! In refining the grain many nutrients are also lost and although they throw a few back in – declaring their presence on the front of pack – many are lost for good including the phytochemicals in the plant that are not measured and shown on nutritional labels. You don’t need me to tell you the worst products – those made with refined starch, with high levels of added sugars, colourings and flavourings – but it is the seemingly healthy ones that can be hard to spot.
Many of us do want the convenience of a breakfast cereal however. So what can we look for? One of the main reasons I agreed to be a nutrition consultant to Goodness Superfoods was for exactly this reason. I wanted to see a truly nutritious good cereal on the market. I was interested in the CSIRO research on barleymax and this was the perfect base for a healthy product. But adding to this is the fact that the products are not made from flour. The grain is kept intact and is sliced, rolled and toasted so that it is truly wholegrain and minimally processed. The high level or total, and all three types of fibre including resistant starch and beta-glucans (higher even that oats), makes this a pretty special grain. Barleymax has a pretty savoury malty taste that is not to every consumer’s liking. So a little syrup and honey is used to sweeten the cereals. I have previously written on this topic so I won’t labour the point. However for those of you who wish to reduce added sugars as much as possible, the good news is that Digestive 1st will soon be available with no added sugar. The only sugar present will be that in the barleymax itself (most plant foods including grains have some sugars present) and in the dried fruit. You can also choose the barley & oats porridge range, or the Fibreboost sprinkles to add to any other cereal or use in your smoothie. These products are nothing but the grains themselves. I have to confess that with the cold mornings in Sydney my current favourite breakfast is barley & oat porridge, topped with natural yoghurt (boosts the protein content), berries, banana, mixed nuts and seeds, drizzled with a little honey. If like me you exercise first thing in the morning this is a great breakfast to refuel post your workout.
Another of my favourite healthy breakfast options is eggs. Research has shown that after an egg-based brekkie we tend to eat less and are less hungry through the morning. It only take 5 minutes to boil an egg so with a little organization it can be a quick easy brekkie. One of my kids favourites is boiled eggs with wholegrain toast soldiers topped with Vegemite and avocado. I also make an omelette and then wrap it with spinach, sliced tomato and a fresh red chilli in a barley wrap. It’s the perfect combination of high fibre, low GI, high protein and plenty of plant food.
I do recognise that while breakfast is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, it may not be the same for you. There is nothing wrong with waiting a little while before you eat, but if you’re not hungry in the morning check first that you are not eating too much and/or too late at night. If this is not the case it may be that you just need a little time before you are ready to eat. There is no rule that says breakfast needs to be on waking. Just try to eat within a couple of hours, otherwise you run the risk of overeating later. You may also prefer a liquid breakfast. Try blending a homemade high protein smoothie with milk, yoghurt, berries and chia seeds. You can a tablespoon of Fibreboost too.
Whichever breakfast you choose the key points are;
- You want a balance of slowly absorbed carbs, good quality protein and healthy fats
- A good dose of fibre, including resistant starch and soluble fibres such as beta-glucans
If you get this meal right, you’ll set yourself up for a healthier day. You’ll be less hungry during the morning, be able to avoid the snacks and treats at morning tea, have better concentration and eat less at lunch. It doesn’t need to be complicated, and I promise you’ll feel better if you get it right.