A new study has found that eating a healthy, well-balanced breakfast could help you burn energy twice as fast.
By Annie Hayes
Nothing beats a nutritious, well-balanced breakfast. Not only does it provide you with a much needed energy-boost, but a hearty morning meal helps boost your brainpower, improving your memory and concentration levels to keep you focused until lunchtime rolls around.
Better yet, according to new research from the Endocrine Society, it could help you burn twice as many calories, too. We spoke to nutritionist Jenna Hope and dietician and Nourish founder Jane Clarke to find out why prioritising breakfast might well be the key to unlocking sustainable fat loss all day long:
Your metabolism is more active after breakfast
The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, looked at the effects of eating a high-calorie breakfast and a low-calorie dinner – and vice versa – to find out when people’s metabolisms were most active. The high-calorie meal represented 69 per cent of their daily calorie requirement, while the low-calorie meal represented just 11 per cent.
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Researchers monitored the effect on participants’ metabolisms by recording dietary induced thermogenesis (DIT) – the amount of energy your body requires to process a meal – as well as overall hunger, blood sugar levels, and cravings for sweets. They hypothesised that participants’ DIT would vary according to the time of the day and the amount of calories they’d eaten.
‘IAim for a well-balanced breakfast containing a source of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats’
The three-day study of 16 men revealed that their DIT was 2.5 times higher after a high-calorie breakfast versus after a high-calorie dinner, meaning their metabolisms were more than twice as efficient in the morning.
That’s not all – a high-calorie breakfast was linked to fewer hunger pangs and sweet cravings throughout the day, as well as lower blood sugar levels, making it the most viable choice all-round.
‘DIT is clearly higher in the morning than in the evening, irrespective of the consumed calorie amount,’ the Endocrine Society researchers wrote. ‘Extensive breakfasting should therefore be preferred over large dinner meals to prevent obesity and high blood glucose peaks.’
Skipping breakfast de-stabilises your blood sugar levels, causing cravings
Start the day without a filling breakfast in your belly and you could find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin by 11am. Hunger can lead to dips and spikes in blood sugar that can cause dizziness and irritability, and the fast-digesting carbs in sugary treats made them difficult to resist.
‘Ideally you want to aim for a well-balanced breakfast containing a source of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, as this can help to stabilise blood sugar levels throughout the morning,’ explains Hope.
The proteins and healthy fats help to slow down the release of the sugars into the bloodstream, Hope continues. As a result, less insulin – the hormone that helps turn food into energy – is released, so blood sugar levels remain stable throughout the morning, meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer.
‘When blood sugar levels fall, you’re more likely to crave higher sugar foods,’ she explains. ‘Therefore, consuming a well-balanced breakfast can help to prevent blood sugar levels falling.’
Think of breakfast as a full meal, not a pre-work snack
We’ve all been guilty of munching down a slice of cold toast while juggling various other pre-9am commitments, whether it’s walking the dog, getting the kids ready for school, or checking your emails. However, if you allocate some extra time to prepare a substantial breakfast – just as you would any other meal – you’ll start the day feeling accomplished and energised.
There’s a reason the mantra says we should eat like a king at breakfast, says Clarke. ‘Physiologically and psychologically, eating a good breakfast gets us off to the best start, she adds. ‘Knowing you’ve eaten well helps you to feel empowered and in control, so you’re more inclined to keep up the good eating practices.’
When you’re constantly having to react to hunger and cravings, you’re likely to lose focus, Clarke continues, while surges and dips in sugar levels causes you to feel drained and lose mental clarity. ‘A healthy breakfast makes you satiated and energised, so you’re less likely to reach for snack foods, biscuits and sugar-laden cereal bars to keep you going until lunch,’ she adds. Put simply, you’re free to focus on the things that matter.
What’s best for a healthy breakfast?
Remember, a large breakfast isn’t the same as an unhealthy breakfast. Even with the best will in the world, if you’re thinking of swapping your morning latte and banana habit for a full English fry-up, you won’t reap the benefits of the morning boost to your metabolism.
‘What you consume in the morning has a big impact on how you function throughout the rest of the day, says Hope. ‘For example, a high-sugar breakfast can set off a blood sugar rollercoaster leaving you craving higher sugar foods throughout the rest of the day. This can also lead to energy peaks and crashes throughout the morning too.’
Instead, aim for a combination of proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, along with a portion of fruit or vegetables. ‘A few examples include: eggs on rye toast with spinach, peanut butter and banana on rye toast, Greek yoghurt with berries and peanut butter or porridge with berries and seeds,’ says Hope.
‘Rather than opting for carb-loaded, refined breakfast cereals, opt for a breakfast that contains a balance of wholegrain carbohydrates, protein and fats for sustained energy release, agrees Clarke. ‘Something like poached eggs, full-fat Greek yoghurt with fruit, or a bowl of porridge with nuts and seeds, as the combination of slow-release energy from the oats and protein from the topping is a winner.’