You’re reading First Thing, a weekly series on HuffPost UK helping to make your mornings happier and healthier.
We all know the best way to start the day is a decent breakfast full of the right nutrients – and eating well first thing has been linked to higher energy levels, and better cholesterol, to name but a few benefits.
But did you know there are different foods you can eat in the morning that’ll benefit you, depending on whether you’re an early bird or a night owl? Yeah, us neither.
Mornings affect everything about our day, says senior nutritionist Alex Glover, who works with Holland & Barrett, and the food we eat in particular impacts how our bodies regulate energy. “In order to best regulate our energy cycles, we need to listen to our personal circadian rhythms, and make sure we’re matching our mornings to these,” he says.
Dr. Simon Steenson, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says breakfast, in general, is your best opportunity to get the nutrients you need for good health.
On average in the UK, we fall short of eating our recommended intake of fibre, he says, so choices like wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit (bananas and berries) or whole wheat toast with nut butter are good sources of fibre.
Is there a specific time I should eat breakfast?
Dr Steenson says there’s been a lot of interest in recent years about the role of not just what we eat, but when we eat. Studies have suggested the timing of our meals might be a factor in weight gain, and have pointed to circadian rhythms in our metabolism as a possible explanation, he says.
However, there’s no conclusive evidence that points to the best time to eat – and people need to find what works best for them. If you wake up early and wanna crack on with breakfast straight away, that works! If you’re a later riser and therefore have breakfast later on in the morning, that works too.
“Focusing on the overall balance and variety of foods that we eat is key,” says Dr Steenson. “This would typically include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and higher fibre starchy foods, as well as some lower-fat dairy foods like milk and yogurt (or dairy alternatives).”
I’m a morning person! What should I eat?
Glover says early birds should start their mornings with a hearty breakfast, packed with protein and fibre to keep them feeling fuller for longer – with the break between breakfast and lunch up to seven hours if rising around 6am.
Foods like oats are perfect thanks to their high content of soluble fibre, he says, and mixing in a high-quality flavoured protein is a good addition.
“An early bird lifestyle can leave them prone to feeling lethargic in the afternoon, which often results in turning to caffeine for an afternoon boost,” he says. “But this can be counter-intuitive, in that the caffeine hit can then have a negative impact on our sleep cycle, as it can stay in our system for up to eight hours.
“If you’re an early bird and often feel the 3pm slump, instead of turning to caffeine, try a natural energy booster such as a daily vitamin B12 which contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.”
Recipe suggestion: Super berry overnight oats
For the Oats
- 1/2 cup Holland & Barrett Organic Gluten Free Jumbo Oats
- 2/3 cup oat milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tbsp Buckwud 100% pure organic Maple Syrup
- 1 tsp dried goji berries
- 2 tsp organic pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp mashed raspberries
- 2 tsb Bioglan Superfoods Protein
Mix together all ingredients in a container, once all ingredients are combined seal the container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
For the Chia Topping:
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tbsp oat milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp Buckwud 100% pure organic
- Maple syrup
Mix together all ingredients in a container, once all ingredients are combined seal the container and refrigerate for at least two hours before using.
For the Berry Compote
- 1 pound of mixed blueberries & strawberries
- 2 tbsp of maple syrup
- Pinch of pink Himalayan salt
Combine all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiled reduce the heat and simmer until the compote has condensed to about half of its original volume.
I’m definitely a night owl. What should I eat for breakfast?
Mornings can feel rushed for night owls who are likely to wake up late, so food you can “grab on-the-go” is ideal, says Glover. “Something light and simple but packed full of slow release carbohydrates to maintain energy levels throughout the day until lunch, such as a grain-based muffin or snack bar,” he says.
“Some night owls may find it difficult to eat breakfast and may wish to postpone it a short while, as long as this isn’t then affecting eating patterns or quality of food throughout the day, then it’s fine.”
While skipping breakfast is not itself an unhealthy choice, some research has shown it can lead to worse food choices later in the day. “If by lunchtime you’re craving anything in sight, you may be more likely to go for a less nutrient dense option to satisfy those hunger pangs, so try having a breakfast high in fibre, protein and fruits and vegetables and don’t forget to stay hydrated,” he says.
Recipe suggestion: Coconut almond butter and banana breakfast muffin (makes 12)
- 3 bananas
- 200ml coconut oil, melted
- 160g light brown sugar
- 360g self-raising ﬂ our
- 1/2 cup crushed almonds
- 5 tbsp Pip & Nut coconut almond butter
- 4 tbsp PE Nutrition Simply Whey Vanilla
- 200ml water
Preheat fan oven to 180C
Line your muffin tray and peel and mash your bananas in a mixing bowl.
Once bananas are smooth add the coconut oil, water, vanilla essence, almond butter and sugar, and stir until combined.
Then add in the sieved ﬂour and crushed almonds, stir again. Once fully combined divide the mixture into the 12 muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Drizzle some almond butter over the top of the muffins and top with a few whole almonds.
First Thing is a weekly series on HuffPost UK Life giving you tips and advice on how to enjoy your mornings. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, starting your day off right will make for a happier and healthier day. We’ll be sharing exercise advice, nutrition guidance, as well as ideas on forming new habits. (And no, the answer to a productive morning isn’t just setting an alarm for 5am!)