What do you have for the most important meal of the day? Yam and stew? Akara and pap? Bread and stew? Cereal? Leftovers from the night before? Variations of the same basic ingredients: yam, plantain, beans, stew, rice? Nothing?
Personally, I tend to eat leftovers from the night before as I don’t have a sweet tooth. This always used to horrify my ex-personal trainer as he could not understand how I could stomach jollof rice, or whatever, that early in the morning. He made me keep a food diary which I had to show him each time we met. I have to say, I would eventually be vindicated a few years later when he told me that he had come across some research which said that my way of eating breakfast was healthier than his. The only trouble was he then tried to convince me to eat some tofu, oat and nut mix which he had invented, which did not appeal to me at all!
Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper
The often-repeated maxim is widely agreed to be best for maintaining a healthy lifestyle – provided you make the right choices. It is quite interesting looking at what various cultures do to break their overnight fast, some sweet, others savoury. As a person without a sweet tooth (luckily, or my gluttony would result in my being twice my size), I don’t really approve of the former. Yes, a little bit of what you fancy does you good, occasionally. However, I am a huge advocate of savoury over sweet!
Breakfasting like a king does not mean huge portions; it means that you should try and eat the majority of your daily calories as early as possible.
So, how to make sure you get off to a good start to the day?
Lack of Time is No Excuse
Unfortunately, many people skip breakfast, citing reasons of time, which often leads to poor concentration, irritability, low blood sugar and the inevitable mid-morning craving for sweet things. I am forever horrified when I see secondary school children buying soft drinks, chocolate and crisps from the local shops first thing in the morning. Adults are not much better – eating on the move, sitting on a tube or bus eating a packet of crisps, a croissant or other sweet pastry and the mandatory cup of milk-laden sweet coffee or tea. Experts agree that we should be getting anything from between 25 per cent and 60 per cent of our daily calories early in the day (depending on which report one reads).
Breakfast cereals remain a quick and convenient way of breaking one’s fast for many. However, many, particularly those aimed at children, are laden with sugar and salt. Reading the labels on the packaging will help ensure you make the right choices. Make those bowls of cereal more nutritionally balanced by adding extras such as sliced bananas, berries, seeds and nuts.
Adding a large dollop of unsweetened natural yoghurt to a fresh fruit salad is another quick and easy way to have a nutrient-packed breakfast. Save time by preparing enough for several days.
Eat for Your Day Ahead
What kind of a day are you expecting? Do you need to be alert or start off the day calm?
Protein is said to keep you alert whilst a mainly carbohydrate-based meal will keep you calm and serene, so they say.
The theory is that if you have to be mentally alert, start your day with protein: eggs, beans, fish are all good sources of protein. I am not an advocate of no-fat or low-fat diets. The fats are replaced with sugar – the enemy! I have always thought ‘eat what you want and what your body craves, within reason’. Besides, oils and fat do make things taste better and you are more likely to eat more of tasty good stuff and less of the bad things such as processed food and sugars.
Complex carbohydrates such as oats encourage the production of calming chemicals in the brain and make a good start to the day. Top off a bowl of slowly-cooked, freshly made porridge with some cinnamon, honey and fruit such as banana and berries. Interestingly, oats can contain up to 15 per cent of protein per 100 grammes of serving.
As with all things, you have to find out what works for you; listen to your body. I have to confess I’m not always good at eating soon after I have woken up. Typically, my first meal of the day is around midday. If I’m not eating left overs, I’d like to eat some protein, typically smoked fish, some cottage cheese and some vegetables in one form of the other.
You just have to find what works for you. Incidentally, I am about to embark on a 28-day diet and exercise challenge. Hopefully, I will be able to tell you about it in my next article. Until then, eat, love and smile.