Ever wondered what a healthy breakfast looks like?

Breakfast can either set you up for the rest of the day or be the catalyst for mood swings and weight gain. 

It can be one of the most difficult meals of the day to make a healthy choice. Most commercial breakfast meals are high in sugar and low in fibre, giving you a sugar rush only to leave you  hungry, tired and grumpy an hour or so later. Our most common breakfast foods belong to the high glycemic category (packaged cereals, doughnuts, waffles and pancakes, white bread and juice). The glycemic index is a rating of how quickly the blood sugar levels in the body are affected by different foods. A few simple food swaps could transform your boring breakfast into your favourite feast of the day. Leaving you full and energised through to lunch. 

Understanding blood glucose and the glycemic index of foods

All carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, most commonly glucose which is absorbed across the intestinal tract into the bloodstream and fuels every cell in your body. Once the glucose enters the bloodstream signals are sent to the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin is responsible for opening cells throughout your body to glucose for them to use. Our brain, muscles and nervous system all rely on glucose to be converted and used as energy. Glucose remaining in the bloodstream for an extended period of time does damage throughout the body. This excess unused glucose circulating the body is converted to glycogen and stored in muscle tissue and the liver. During periods of physical activity and between meals the blood glucose levels drop. This signals the release of the stored glycogen to used by the cells for energy until the next meal. 

The glycemic index is an indication of how the food you eat affects the blood sugar levels. It is a measurement of how high the blood sugar levels will peak. The higher you blood glucose gets, the more detrimental it is to your body. The pancreas has to work harder releasing insulin to bring the blood glucose back down and you normally end up with your blood glucose going too low before normalising. This is the post sugar rush crash. All the glucose has been stored before the body realises there is not enough circulating the body to provide energy and stores have to be reopened. You can check it for yourself with a blood glucose monitor. Blood sugar will commonly peak 1 - 2 hrs after eating but depending on what you eat could peak as quickly as 20 mins. For example if you ate a chocolate bar and a soft drink it will cross the intestine quickly and cause the blood sugar levels to raise quickly.

Why is this important?

The goal is to keep the blood glucose levels as stable as possible. Regular swings in blood glucose short term lead to fatigue, mood swings, weight gain and decreased insulin sensitivity. Long term, it can lead to thyroid diseases, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

So then what is the perfect breakfast?

Building the perfect breakfast is a good start to the day and having stable blood glucose levels. It involves combining your foods right to achieve slow release sustainable energy to keep you full right through to lunch.  There are 3 key factors to base the meal on: low glycemic index foods, foods high in fibre and high nutrient density. This slows down the absorption of sugar across the intestinal tract, keeping the blood glucose spike to minimum and contributing to slow release energy. Slowing down the absorption and digestion of a meal and increasing the nutrient density will also satisfy your hunger for a longer period of time. 

Foods

  • Low GI foods: have an index value lower than 55 - pearled barley, quinoa, steel cut rolled oats, brown rice, bean varieties (baked, black, lima, kidney, red etc), chick peas, lentils, nuts, whole meal spaghetti, prunes, pear, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, dates, apple, avocado, green beans, capsicum, kale, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, pepper, chilli, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, peppermint, thyme, turmeric, mustard seeds, oregano, onion, squash, sea vegetables, garlic. legumes, quinoa, sweet potato. natural muesli, brown rice. 
  • Medium GI foods: have an index value between 55 and 70 - honey, wholemeal bread, watermelon, grapes, banana, corn, sweet potato, papaya, raisins, pineapple, apricots
  • High GI foods: Have an index value higher than 70 - gatorade, baguette, waffles, corn flakes, coco pops, puffed wheat, white rice, white bread, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal.the more processed and refined the higher the glycemic index. fluffy white bread, white rice. 
  • Nutrient dense foods - blueberries, cinnamon, avocado, salmon, egg yolk, nuts and seeds, buckwheat, oats, rye, quinoa, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, kiwi fruit
  • High fibre foods - beans, peas, oats, barley, flaxseeds. 

How the glycemic index of foods is affected. 

  • The more processed a food, the higher the GI. For example instant oatmeal has a GI of 79 whereas steel cut rolled oats has a GI of 55. 
  • Also take into account the portion size. A large portion size of a medium GI foods has the same affect as a small portion size of a high GI food.
  • Combine your foods to lower the GI. For example, have your papaya and pineapple, with natural muesli or avocado and beans on wholemeal bread. Combining foods a little high in fibre or protein with a food with a slightly higher GI can bring the GI of the meal down. 
  • The longer it is cooked for the more the GI increases.
  • The more acidic the lower the GI for example sourdough bread uses lactobacillus or lactic acid culture and therefore has a lower GI than white bread. Other acidic foods include pickled food, vinegar and lemon juice.
  • Adding protein and fat reduces GI. For example, add some eggs, turkey, avocado to bring down the GI of your toast.
  • The higher the content of viscous or soluble fibre the lower the GI will be. Add beans, nuts, seeds to your meal to increase fibre content. 

With so many fantastic foods to choose from. Get creative!! Mix your grains and your berries, your spices and your vegetables, add some protein and get off the sugar rush!