Function better after breakfast
Your eating habits
Want a breakfast to keep you going all day, boost your memory and help you lose weight? What’s your first meal of the day like? A coffee and a muffin grabbed at the station on the way in to work? Or do you hold out until elevenses, when someone in your office brings round a bag of doughnuts or you resort to raiding the biscuit tin? If that’s you, the chances are you’re not functioning at your best, during the morning and all through the day.
When you wake up, your body detects that your blood sugar is low (you haven’t been fed since last night) and your liver leaps into action converting the energy-store glycogen into blood glucose to give you some fuel to start the day. But your body needs real food as soon as possible. But while you may prefer a huge shot of sugar that’ll give you an instant energy buzz, your body wants a steady drip-feed of sugar into your blood stream.
Sugar is often portrayed as a dietary evil, but it’s your body’s main energy supply. The digestive system can break down starchy carbs such as bread, pasta and rice to produce simple sugars. And your liver can synthesise them from other dietary components. The problems occur when you feed your body on neat sugar. This gives you an immediate spike in blood sugar (plus that buzz of energy), but all too soon it plunges again, leaving you hungry and often tired and irritable, too. Too many of us eat a breakfast with a high glycaemic index (GI) – the kind that causes a blood sugar spike. What’s much better is a low-GI breakfast that trickles sugar into your blood stream, keeping you fuelled until lunchtime.
Low-GI breakfasts also help to control your weight (or even lose it). Scientists at Oxford Brookes University studied 38 children aged between eight and 11. Some of the kids ate a low-GI breakfast, the others had one that was high in GI, and each breakfast was matched for calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate and fibre content. After 10 weeks, the low- and high-GI groups swapped over and the experiment was repeated. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the children ate less on the days they had a low-GI breakfast. Even when the children were given low-GI breakfasts on just two days a week, they also ate less on other days.
According to researchers at the University of Lund in Sweden, the blood sugar moderating effect of a low-GI, carb-rich breakfast continues beyond lunchtime, keeping blood sugar levels nice and low for up to 10 hours. The crucial component along with a low-glycaemic index was plenty of fibre. The low-GI breakfast eaters in the study also scored better in tests of short-term memory.
Eating low-GI foods could even save your life. More and more studies show that high-GI diets, and their associations with fluctuations in blood sugar, increase your risk of type-2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
What about glycaemic load?
You might have heard of GL – this stands for glycaemic load, and it’s a slightly more sophisticated version of the GI. One problem with GI is that it gives a high (bad) GI value to some otherwise healthy foods, and this puts people off. Sweet-tasting veg such as carrots are high GI because of their natural sugars – but you’d have to eat a field’s worth to get a blood sugar spike out of carrots!
Glycaemic Load considers the amount of sugars a food contains. Carrots don’t contain much sugar per carrot (thanks to their high water content), so they have a low (good) GL. However, white pasta is very high in starch, which the body rapidly digests to sugar, and it’s denser so white pasta has a higher (worse) GL.
Five low-GI breakfasts
1. Baked beans and grilled tomatoes with wholemeal toast, spread with low-fat spread.
2. A tin of sardines mashed with a dash of Worcestershire sauce, piled onto wholemeal toast and grilled.
3. A bowl of natural yoghurt topped with a chopped unpeeled apple, with a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds. A slice of wholemeal toast with olive-oil spread.
4. A bowl of porridge topped with a tablespoon of chopped almonds and a chopped peach. A poached egg on wholemeal toast.
5. A wholemeal lean-ham sandwich. A fruit smoothie half made with natural yogurt and the other half skimmed milk, with a handful of berries.
Words by MH Nutritionist Carina Norris