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Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Dr Sandro Demaio
A young couple prepare a healthy breakfast

Let's separate fact from fiction and start with the basics

A young couple prepare a healthy breakfast

It's the age-old question; does eating breakfast actually matter? As a medical doctor, I’ve been asked this question countless times. And, with all the fads and diets out there, I understand why it’s sometimes hard to know the right answer.

Let's separate fact from fiction and start with the basics.

Why is breakfast important?

First, because breakfast does as its name suggests, it breaks your fast. This is important to refuel your body, replenish those energy stores and kick-start your gut activity. Eating a proper breakfast can also reduce your chances of over-consuming high kilojoule snacks later in the day.

Second, because if done right, breakfast is often a nutrient-packed meal for many of us. More on this in a moment.

Third, this morning ritual helps increase your mental alertness and concentration for the school and work day ahead. This is particularly important for our little ones, whose hungry bellies need filling before jumping into class.

How do you make sure your breakfast is as nutritious as possible?

Now that we’ve established breakfast is important, we need to make it clear that your breakfast must be nutritious. What you eat is just as important as whether you eat!

The first red flag is around ready-made breakfast cereals. Beware, even those marketed as ‘healthy’ are often loaded with sugar and contain far less fibre and micronutrients than genuinely healthier alternatives.

Here's a good tip for store-bought breakfast cereals: if you can’t read it, leave it. To do that, simply flip over the box and scan the full list of ingredients for added nasties and anything you can't pronounce.

A young couple prepare a healthy breakfast together

If there are multiple names for sugar on the list – like sucrose, fructose syrup, golden syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice, agave syrup, invert sugar, malt syrup or molasses – it’s probably not the best way to begin your day. Remember the ingredients will be listed in order from greatest to least by weight, so check the first few lines for products high in sugar, fat and even salt.

I know it’s hard to stick to rules, so instead of ruling things out of your diet, try and consider whether you are getting enough of the right kinds of foods in your breakfast. If you’re a cereal fan, I would suggest adding some chopped, fresh, seasonal fruit to your cereal and then a dollop of fresh, natural yoghurt. Yoghurt is packed with gut-friendly, healthy bacteria, is rich in protein which keeps you feeling full for longer, and is a source of calcium which is essential for bone and muscle development.

Another red flag is flavoured yoghurts which can be little healthier than ice cream. Instead of buying yoghurts that come with added colours and loads of sugar, try buying plain yoghurt and adding mashed ripe fruit and berries to the pot at the beginning of the week.

The best way to ensure you’re getting the perfect start to your day is to make your own muesli. Combining fibre-rich, whole oats with your favourite seeds, nuts and spices like cinnamon will ensure you know exactly what’s in it. You’ll also save money, and – if you make a large batch once each month – you’ll even save time!

If you’re a savoury fan, starting your day with a wholesome veggie-packed dish is one of the best things you can do for your health. This gets you ahead for your five-a-day target and is better than any multivitamin. To complement a veg-packed breakfast, eggs are high in protein which will keep you feeling full.

Fibre is also essential for gut health, so when you’re buying bread, search for an option with more fibre in each serving. Wholegrain and seed-filled bread is great.

A young couple hold up slices of fruit in front of their eyes as they enjoy as breakfast spread

What will eating breakfast do for my health?

Good food is not just about your waistline; it’s about your wellbeing. The nutrients in good food allow your body to grow, develop, age healthily and thrive.

Giving yourself the gift of a healthy, diverse diet, starting at breakfast, will reduce your risk of a whole host of diseases including heart attack, stroke, some cancers (including breast and bowel cancer) and type 2 diabetes.

Need proof that breakfast is an important meal in your day? You can’t go past the age-old saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”

The tips throughout this article serve as broad advice and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

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Dr Sandro Demaio

Dr Sandro Demaio smiling

Dr Sandro Demaio

Co-host of the ABC TV series ‘Ask the Doctor’, author of 30 scientific papers and ‘The Doctor’s Diet’ (a cookbook based on science), Dr Sandro Demaio is an Aussie medical doctor and global expert on non-communicable diseases.

For more articles by Dr Sandro Demaio, check out The Check Up’s dedicated section.