Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine

A scientist's guide to life: how to eat a good breakfast

Published: 19th January, 2020 at 11:45
Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

In the morning, do you crave a big fry-up, or prefer to just run out of the door? We get the coffee brewing and talk about breakfast with nutritionist Leonie Ruddick-Collins.

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Despite the media hype, the benefits are not as obvious as you might think. There’s no clear-cut link, for example, between breakfast and body weight, blood pressure or cholesterol.


That said, studies have shown that having breakfast can help concentration and memory, and it also plays a key role in blood glucose regulation.

Is it possible to have a healthy fry-up?

Absolutely. It’s about how you cook it. Use a healthy oil, or grill it, and don’t go overboard on portion size. A bit of bacon every now and then is fine, just remove as much fat as you can. Baked beans are fantastic in the morning, so are eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes.

Need to know:

  1. Read the labels of cereals, and check portion sizes.
  2. If you love a fry-up, use healthy oils and fill up on tomatoes, baked beans, mushrooms and eggs.
  3. Your mum was right – it’s good to breakfast like a king.

What cereal should I pick?

Many breakfast cereals are laden with sugar. For some, sugar makes up more than a third of the total content. Look carefully at the labels. A low-sugar product contains less than 5g of sugar per 100g. Go for low-sugar, fibre-filled cereals, like Weetabix, oats and bran flakes.

Be aware that although it’s healthy, muesli is calorie-dense, so watch the portion size. Have a small bowlful with yoghurt, to help you get the right balance of fibre, iron and calcium.

Tea or juice?

Go easy on the fruit juice. Many juices contain the same amount of sugar as cola, but we don’t realise this. My advice is to go for tea and a piece of fruit, like an orange.

© Thomas Hedger
© Thomas Hedger

Is it true that breakfast kick-starts your metabolism?

People cite this as a reason why we should eat breakfast but it’s not exactly true. Metabolism increases naturally when you get up in the morning and after you eat any meal. It doesn’t have to be breakfast.

Should I breakfast like a king and dine like a pauper, as the old adage goes?

The typical UK style of eating is to consume 48 per cent of your calories at dinner, and just 16 per cent at breakfast, but studies suggest that if we eat more in the morning, and less later in the day, it can help with weight loss. This makes sense because the body is primed to eat early in the morning to give us energy to get through the day.

In the evening, the body prepares itself for an overnight fast. It breaks down its stored energy, like fat and glucose, to use as fuel while we sleep. Late eating may interfere with this process. So, if you’re trying to lose weight, maybe a bigger breakfast is the way to go.

Read more from A scientist’s guide to life:

Is skipping breakfast bad for you?

It’s not great. Skipping breakfast has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. This could be because breakfast skippers tend to eat more later in the day when our bodies are more glucose intolerant.

Also, compared with breakfast eaters, people who skip breakfast tend to be lacking in key nutrients, such as fibre, iron and calcium. These are the sorts of things that are frequently found in breakfast foods, so the morning meal is an ideal opportunity to stock up on them.



Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


Sponsored content