Low-sugar breakfasts could change your life, says top nutritionist May Simpkin, who explains how sugary cereals are affecting your mood as well as health
We’ve long known that breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar. Worse still, clever marketing and PR means that, worryingly, many unhealthy varieties are still a regular staple at the breakfast table. I’m often asked which cereals are the best choices; the answer is quite simply, apart from porridge oats, none of them. As a nutritionist, the cereal aisle in the supermarket is one that I avoid altogether, unless I’m due a re-stock of unadulterated porridge oats; wholegrain and preferably organic.
Sugar can have significant effects on your energy levels and ability to cope
The latest surveys into our dietary habits indicate that most children are eating over double the recommended daily sugar intake, and that sugar makes up far more than the recommended 5 per cent of their total daily calorie intake – 13 per cent for children and 15 per cent for teenagers. Adults come in at 12 per cent, but all way too high. Despite the strong message that sugar is ‘bad for our health’, these figures have changed little since 2008.
A diet that is high in sugar significantly increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It can also have significant effects on your energy levels and ability to cope, leading in some cases to more pronounced symptoms of otherwise normal health imbalances. For example, symptoms due to hormonal changes from PMS or menopause or everyday stress can be exacerbated with bad blood sugar management.
if you want to make one effective change to support your health, avoid the usual breakfast cereals.
So, if you want to make one effective change to support your health, avoid the usual breakfast cereals. Admittedly, some brands are available with no added sugar but this often still means too much sugar.
If you’re used to sweet foods, your taste buds may take some time to adjust. However, once you start to reduce your sugar intake, you will notice a difference in just 10-14 days, when sweet foods that you used to enjoy will taste too sweet.
If you’re low in blood sugar, your brain very quickly receives strong messages to eat more sugar and these messages are very hard to overcome
The good news is that you will feel the benefits of eating less sugar almost immediately. Whether you’re looking to lose a few pounds, balance your hormones or simply feel less tired and more energized, getting your blood sugars in balance at the beginning of the day is key. Avoiding refined sugars will mean that you avoid the sugar surges and the inevitable dips that follow, which leave you feeling lightheaded, dizzy and perhaps irritable or cranky. The cravings soon kick in as your blood sugar dips; your body is very clever. If you’re low in blood sugar, your brain very quickly receives strong messages to eat more sugar and these messages are very hard to overcome.
Starting your day with a high sugar breakfast cereal is a sure way to kick off this cycle of sugar surges and sugar dips
Starting your day with a high sugar breakfast cereal is a sure way to kick off this cycle of sugar surges and sugar dips and will make your day harder to get through. Avoiding the sugary breakfast cereals and opting for healthier, low sugar choices will ensure you start your day feeling energized and invigorated, with better concentration and focus throughout the morning.
5 low-sugar breakfasts
Here are some alternatives to calorific cereals. Some days you will have more time to spend in the kitchen, perhaps at the weekends or if you’re working from home, whilst on other days you will need to consider preparing a breakfast you can take with you. Start saving your larger glass jars for an ideal and secure option to transport your breakfast.
Poached, fried in a little butter, scrambled or omelette served with wilted spinach, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes. Keep frozen leaf spinach in the freezer for ease and convenience. Also try boiled eggs with wholemeal toast soldiers, or even asparagus soldiers, to ensure a high fibre vegetable portion at the start of your day
Made with water, semi-skimmed cow’s milk or any other nut milk and one tablespoon of chia seeds for added fibre, protein and anti-inflammatory Omega 3s. Note, cow’s milk has a higher protein content and therefore will keep you fuller for longer. Top with chopped or grated apple, one tablespoon flaked almonds and a good sprinkle of ‘sweet tasting’ cinnamon.
Alternatively, make up a batch of overnight oats; combine 1 cup oats with ½ cup yoghurt (any), 1 cup milk (any), 1 cup orange juice, 1 tbsp chia seeds and 1 grated apple. Leave to soak overnight adding more liquid if necessary in the morning. Top with berries or any other seasonal fruit and a small handful of chopped nuts. This is an ideal portable breakfast too.
Natural Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
That’s as opposed to Greek Style, for its higher protein content. Try 2 or 3 large tbsp with fruits such as berries, from frozen if fresh are not available, or any other seasonal varieties, and sprinkle with 1 tbsp seeds, such as chia or pumpkin seeds, for added protein and fibre.
Made with Greek or coconut yoghurt, oats, chia seeds, 1 tbsp good quality nut butter, along with a combination of any 2 vegetables, such as spinach and celery, kale, lettuce and 1 portion of any seasonal fruit. Frozen fruits and vegetables work well too. If you’re looking to increase your protein, a scoop of good quality protein powder can be added.
Top it with with smashed avocado, chilli flakes, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Try a sprinkle of smoked paprika or finely chopped garlic to add variety. Look for stone ground, yeast free sour dough if can find it.
A quick word about your morning tea or coffee…
If you’re drinking your coffee and tea black, you will be making a saving in terms of calories. These daily intakes of milk or cream may seem small, but on a regular basis, the additional calories add up and have an impact on your overall calorie intake. A recent American study indicates that many tea and coffee drinkers are regularly adding calories to add variety or improve the flavour of their drinks but without being fully aware of the additional calorie or nutritional implications. Sugar, cream and extra sweet syrups are all calorie dense and of low nutritional value. In the first instance, avoid any syrups, flavourings or toppings with any beverage and opt for cappuccinos or even a macchiato, rather than lattes, which use less milk. In the longer term, consider drinking your tea and coffee black once you’re palate adapts to a lighter choice.
May Simpkin is a UK qualified Nutritional Therapist with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition. She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is a registered practitioner, bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered with IFM, The Institute for Functional Medicine and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.
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