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Breakfast: The Most Important Meal Of The Day?

07/02/2017 15:00

We've long been told that breakfast is the 'most important' meal for the day, but judging by the results of research released this week, many of us don't agree. The research, conducted by belVita, found that 43% of Britons wish they ate it more often - which means not far from half of our nation is not eating breakfast every day... shocking!

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I've long wanted to know whether there is any truth in the time-honoured adage that breakfast 'sets you up for the day', and so was delighted when the kind folks over at belVita let me dig into the data from their latest research. Involving 2,000 adults aged 25-44, the study represents the most up-to-date look at our nation's attitudes to breakfast. The results confirm that many people really are missing out when they skip the first meal of the day. The findings are in line with a host of other scientific research that shows eating breakfast has a tangible positive effect on mood, making us more outgoing, positive, and motivated, compared to those who don't. While running on an empty tank, the brain - which burns an incredible 20% of our body's energy - cannot function optimally, making us more volatile and fractious. And it's not just your mood that can suffer from lack of breakfast: In the study, 53% of people say they have trouble concentrating when they skip breakfast, and 44% even say they get bored and lose interest when they go unfuelled in the mornings.

"I get hangry. Just a bit short tempered, and my attention span suffers too." Sam Gleason, 28, Norwich, Chef

Of the people who regularly skip breakfast (and wish they didn't), 62% say that it's because they don't have enough time. This is revealing, but not a wholly unexpected finding - we all know that when dashing to get to work, eating something can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list. But just like pulling an all-nighter and trying to work the next day, we usually pay for it later. Without a supply of fuel from our morning chow, which works slowly through our digestive system releasing its energy, the body turns to its reserves. Levels of stress hormones surge and blood pressure increases as the body tries to keep itself going. It's hardly surprising then that, according to this research, 55% of people experience higher energy levels when they have eaten breakfast, compared to just 15% who say they're more energised when they skip it.

"I skipped it yesterday and I had a client appointment so I was on the road. It was the first day back after the weekend so I just forgot to prepare, I didn't feel right. It threw me off a bit. I just lacked energy and my mood, I got to that position when you're thinking of food rather than work." Craig Symon, 29, Bristol, Computer Engineer

Breakfast shouldn't just be seen as mere sustenance either, but an opportunity to nourish ourselves with healthy eating options. Research shows that people who skip breakfast are less likely to eat enough fruit and vegetables, and get all the vitamins and nutrients that they need for the day. If it's struggling, your body might not be able to write you an email, but going hungry and being undernourished is a killer for being able to function well. For example, research shows that judges are more likely to make harsher, less considered decisions if they are yearning for food, and we see this here: 45% report improved memory, 46% say their ability to learn new things improves, and 41% say they are better at making decisions when they have eaten breakfast.

"I still do a lot of training on my job so if I skip breakfast I find my exams a lot harder. We have to get certified quite regularly and I actually had to have the exam last Monday. I struggled a lot with it. I came in and had to get it done in a certain time, I hadn't had my breakfast and I could barely focus. I did fine, but it took a lot more concentration than it normally would have and it took a lot longer as well." Craig Symon, 29, Bristol, Computer Engineer

With my background as a medical doctor, I understand only too well that work and family life demands can make breakfast hard to put first. Like sleep, having a shower, and brushing your teeth, breakfast should once again be considered one of life's essentials. If you are in doubt, I suggest you try an experiment to test whether a regular breakfast makes any difference. And to give you something to chew over, here are my ten top breakfast tips for having a good morning alongside some interesting titbits to give you some inspiration.

1. Breakfast is the easiest meal to get right: We make slower and more accurate decisions in the morning and are more rash and less able to make good choices later in the day

2. Breakfast can have distinct effects on our mood: Breakfast makes us more sociable, motivated and outgoing as well as making us more interested in the world around us by reducing boredom

3. Skipping breakfast makes it more difficult to get the necessary daily vitamins and minerals: People who don't have any breakfast are more likely to be deficient in nutrients

4. Our ability to think clearly is linked to eating breakfast: This continues into late morning, and eating little and often, rather than big meals, is linked to sustained concentration and clear thinking throughout the day

5. Eating breakfast makes you less likely to have an accident: It will reduce stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, and may contribute to increased blood pressure

6. Eating breakfast helps when you're exercising: If you're going to exercise, try to time it with when you eat breakfast. A light snack one hour before (75g of carbohydrate for 75kg person), or a larger breakfast 2-3 hours before

7. It is better to eat breakfast as regularly as possible: Irregular breakfasting patterns are linked to inability to think clearly

8. Even a light breakfast is better than no breakfast: Although a mid-morning snack can help to restore thinking abilities and improve mood if breakfast is very light, but isn't needed with a larger breakfast that contains carbohydrates

9. Enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee: Having a cup of tea or coffee with breakfast enhances the mood boosting effect that breakfast provides

10. Eating breakfast is linked to better digestive health: Especially if your breakfast includes fibre, which can also reduce your chances of getting a cold

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