A healthy, balanced breakfast leads to good overall health in the long term.
FOR as long as I can remember, my morning meal has consisted of a mug of coffee with two slices of bread.
Sometimes, I don’t even bother to butter the bread and just have it plain with my coffee.
I never put much thought or planning into breakfast. It has always been a very basic and often rushed meal, given that I’m always pressed for time.
It’s no surprise that many other Malaysians are also in the same boat.
A recent survey on breakfast habits by Herbalife, which covered over 5,504 people in 11 countries in the Asia Pacific region (including Malaysia), has revealed that 69 per cent of Malaysians only consumecoffee, tea and hot chocolate for breakfast while 68 per cent only consume toast.
Furthermore, carbohydrates made up most of their breakfast nutrients — which indicates why Malaysia is seen as the most obese country in Southeast Asia.
Breakfast is not called the most important meal of the day for nothing. Consuming a healthy breakfast has many benefits, including supporting the body’s metabolism, better brain health, improved mental alertness, muscle mass maintenance and improved digestion among others.
While the Herbalife APAC Healthy Breakfast Survey clearly shows that the majority of Malaysians realise that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (81 per cent), there remain two key issues that need to be addressed — what people eat for their morning meal and the reason why some consumers skip breakfast.
Breakfast provides calories and the energy that the body needs to help it kick-start your metabolism, explains nutritionist Dr Chen Zhen-Yu, who is also part of the Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board.
“At night, your metabolism is low since your body is in sleeping mode. In the morning when you get up, you need to kick-start your metabolism and you need the right food for that. But breakfast shouldn’t just be about feeding your appetite. It’s reading your body’s message about what it needs to function well.”
Many consumers fail to understand what a good, healthy breakfast is but it’s the same as with any meal — balance. We need to ensure that what we consume for breakfast doesn’t just include carbohydrates but also good protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Chen says this essentially means adding or removing certain foods from our morning meal to ensure it’s more balanced.
If, for example, your usual breakfast consists of two slices of toast, then include an egg and a glass of milk to ensure you have good protein. Also include some simple greens and an apple, which will provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.
The survey shows that only 23 per cent of Malaysians include fruit and vegetables in their morning meal.
“The idea is to create a nutrient dense meal, not a high calorie one which provides no benefits for the body,” says Chen.
Traditional breakfasts in Southeast Asia such as nasi lemak, mee goreng or kuih tend to be very high in sugar, salt or fat.
On a positive note, the survey shows that the majority of Malaysians interviewed (61 per cent) eat their breakfast at home. This means they are getting morning meals which are less likely to be high in fat, salt and sugar, hallmarks of commercially prepared meals.
Chen says Malaysian consumers who like a traditional breakfast (45 per cent of those surveyed) should put some effort into making these meals healthier.
Reduce the portion size, for example, and include more greens and fruit into the meal as well as good protein.
And opt for less fried options such as a boiled or poached egg over a fried one and be mindful of the amount of butter and jam on your toast to reduce fat and sugar.
Most importantly, always ensure that your breakfast plate has a mix of nutrients from a variety of foods because no one food can give your body everything that it needs.
Chen says these are very simple things that one can do to change one’s breakfast habits and it doesn’t take much time or effort.
“If, for example, you only drink hot chocolate for breakfast, you may get some calories but you’re missing out on other important nutrients like protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with toast but you have to combine it with other nutrient dense food. Toasted bread gives you good carbohydrates but we also need vitamins and minerals and fibre so add fruit and vegetables and protein to balance it out.”
DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST
Having a good healthy breakfast on a regular basis does contribute to the long term wellbeing of our body and it also helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases, says Chen.
However, it does help if these habits are cultivated from an early age so they are naturally carried forward into adulthood.
Many people also mistakenly believe that skipping breakfast will help them to reduce calories and lose weight.
However, research actually shows that breakfast skippers have a high chance of becoming overweight or obese.
“When you skip breakfast, you put your body into an energy saving mode. Subsequently, when you have a big lunch, those additional calories are quickly stored as fat. That’s why the more you skip breakfast, the more likely you are to become overweight.”
Chen adds that research has also shown that skipping breakfast puts one at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Some studies even suggest a higher cancer risk, especially gastric cancer.
“Basically, eating a healthy breakfast keeps your body in a healthy state. It boosts your immune system so your body can ward off diseases. Physiologically we need three meals a day to maintain health and weight. When we skip a meal, the balance is off and it’s going to affect our body in the long term.”
STARTING THE DAY WRONG
HERE are the top reasons why Malaysians don’t consume breakfast daily
1. Lack of time (42 per cent)
2. Don’t feel hungry (37 per cent)
3. Trying to maintain weight (19 per cent)
4. Want to lose weight (14 per cent)
5. Calorie intake can be fulfilled later (12 per cent)
WHICH ARE YOU?
Consume breakfast at home (61 per cent)
Consume breakfast at work (24 per cent)
Consume breakfast on the way to work (11 per cent)
Do not eat breakfast (4 per cent)
WHAT MALAYSIANS EAT FOR BREAKFAST
A cup of coffee/tea/Milo/hot chocolate (69 per cent)
Bread or toast (68 per cent)
Traditional style breakfast (45 per cent)
Oats or cereal (44 per cent)
Dairy products (33 per cent)
Protein-based food (31 per cent)
Baked goods (30 per cent)
Western breakfast (23 per cent)
Fruits and/or vegetables (23 per cent)
Protein shake or smoothie (9 per cent)
EMULATE THIS HEALTHY ROUTINE
WITH our busy lifestyles, most of us leave work late, don’t get to bed on time and often, wake up too tired to make a good breakfast.
But here are some simple tips to get yourself into a healthy breakfast routine:
1. Wake up 15 minutes earlier
It’s time to consider a change in your lifestyle habits for the good of your health. Try waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual to prepare a quick breakfast for yourself and allow your body to “wake up” before you dive into the intense activities of the day.
2. Get a friend or loved one to join you
Sometimes, having good company can make a world of difference. Having a friend or loved one on the same quest as you works wonders in driving up the motivation level to consume a healthy breakfast daily. And your body will thank you for it.
3. Keep breakfast in mind when grocery shopping
It’s a lot easier to make a healthy breakfast when you have all the ingredients ready in your fridge or kitchen cupboard. During the weekend, stock up on these essential items, whether its fruit, cereal, oatmeal or yoghurt.
4. Prepare ahead of time
When you’re pressed for time in the morning, it’s best to keep breakfast meals simple, easy and convenient. It’s also essential that you prepare whatever ingredients you need ahead of time, whether it’s chopping up fruit and vegetables, prepping smoothie ingredients or even leaving out all the bowls and utensils you will need in the morning.
5. Make more
Certain breakfast essentials like hard boiled eggs, granola or porridge can be made in abundance over the weekend so that it lasts you throughout the week. Just make sure that it’s properly and safely stored.
Sources: Herbalife Nutrition and “5 Simple Habits for a Better Breakfast Routine” — www.thekitchn.com
TRY THESE HEALTHY OPTIONS
GOOD breakfast habits need to start early.
Here’s how you can get your child started on a healthy morning meal:
* Source for breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin B, D and iron.
* Read labels carefully to choose cereals that contain less salt and sugar.
* Add fresh or dried fruit to cereal for sweetness rather than sugar.
* Include a glass of fruit juice because vitamin C from the juice will help with iron absorption from the cereal or bread.
* Include milk and dairy products for calcium.
* Try smoothies made with fresh or canned fruit, fruit juice and low fat milk and yogurt.
Source: Adapted from: “Healthy Breakfast Tips” — www.shakeupyourwakeup.com