The importance of breakfast

Upon waking up in the morning, it will have been at least eight hours since your last meal or snack from the day before. Your body needs to refuel blood sugar levels and help regain the energy lost during such a lengthy overnight fast. The best way to revitalize your body is with a filling and nutritious breakfast, to help you meet the demands of the hours ahead and keep you satiated until your next meal.

Our breakfast choices are very important as eat55ing an insufficient breakfast can be a detrimental as eating nothing at all. People who start the day with a cup of tea or coffee plus a sugary cereal or cereal bar, a croissant or a pastry may think that because they have eaten something, they are providing their body and brain with a good start to the day. However, they are likely to also wonder why they are still tired and hungry mid-morning.

Refined convenience foods, such as those listed above, are high in sugar and have very little nutritional value. As a result, they are digested very quickly and their glucose is released almost immediately into the bloodstream. Together with the caffeine, this causes the body’s blood sugar levels to soar and provides an instant energy boost immediately after eating. The downside of this effect is that the increase in energy levels is extremely short-lived. By the time you reach work, your body will be crying out for the next quick fix to boost energy levels and you are likely to need another caffeine fix or sugary snack to keep you going.

So what should you eat? Your breakfast should provide you with around a quarter of your daily nutrients so it’s important to get a
healthy balance from each of the food groups. Breakfast foods containing fibre-rich complex carbohydrates – such as wholemeal or granary bread – combined with a source of protein – such as eggs – will help to energise you and keep you feeling fuller for longer, meaning that you are less inclined to reach for sugary snacks mid-morning. Eggs (particularly the yolks) are also a great source of vitamins A, D, B2 and iodine. Adding vegetables such as tomatoes, lightly fried in a source of healthy fat such as olive oil or rapeseed oil, will add a further boost of nutrients, including vitamin C, folate and cancer-protective lycopene.

Other wholesome breakfast ideas include:

  • Sugar-free muesli or porridge oats sprinkled with blueberries and seeds
    Natural yoghurt served with apple, cinnamon and chopped hazelnuts
  • Reduced salt Baked Beans on wholemeal toast
  • A vegetable and ham omelette20120531-154158-800x533
  • A fruit smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and live yogurt
  • Tinned sardines/ mackerel on wholemeal toast
  • A grilled lean bacon and fresh tomato sandwich
  • Nut butter (including peanut, cashew, hazelnut or almond) on wholemeal toast.

Drinking a glass of fresh orange juice alongside your breakfast instead of tea of coffee will help you to absorb the iron from your food and further assist your energy levels, whereas caffeine interferes with iron absorption so should ideally be avoided around meal times.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Sleep tight

Although the reasons for sleep problems can be complex, unstable blood sugar is a common (and easily rectifiable) cause of insomnia. A drop in sugar levels can prompt the release of hormones which stimulate the brain, making it difficult to drift off to sleep.

A drink or snack before bed can help counter this, but what should you choose?

Bananas are a good source of potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants. They also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted in the brain to serotonin (a relaxing, sleep-regulating neurotransmitter) and melatonin (a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles). Try served with live yogurt and Manuka honey before bed.

Chamomile – this flowering plant belongingmoon-march-2012-senin-4264 to the daisy family is one of the oldest and most widely used medicinal plants in the world. Chamomile preparations (such as teas) are used to treat insomnia and induce calm; the effects are thought to be due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to receptors in the brain. Try avoiding coffee, tea, chocolate and cola in the six hours before bed and swapping for this calming herbal infusion.

Almonds contain magnesium and are a good source of protein, helping keep blood sugar levels steady while you sleep. They are also a natural source of melatonin – consuming foods rich in melatonin can help raise blood levels of melatonin significantly. Try almond butter on an oatcake or wholemeal toast as a pre-bedtime snack.

Oatmeal is a source of complex carbohydrate, which triggers a rise in blood sugar and insulin production, stimulating the release of sleep-inducing brain chemicals. Oatmeal is also rich in vitamin B6 – an anti-stress vitamin. Try mixed with ground flaxseeds and sprinkled on natural yogurt.

Kiwi fruit contains many medicinally useful compounds, among which antioxidants and serotonin may be beneficial to aid sleep onset and duration. Oxidative stress has been shown to be higher in people who have sleep problems so eating foods high in antioxidants before bed may help combat this.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Don’t go hungry

HEALTH:

Being healthy is not neccessarily about eating less. Whilst it’s important to watch your calorie intake, eating too little or too irregularly can lead to dizziness, low mood and fatigue. It can also hinder your progress by causing cravings and the urge to overeat.

By ensuring that you are regularly supplying your body with good quality nutrition throughout the day you will see far better results in the gym and feel better for it too.

EXERCISE:

Exercising without adequate fuel is like trying to drive a car with no petrol. Food eaten before exercise should be 1relatively low in fat and fibre, moderate in protein and high in carbohydrate in order to maximize maintenance of blood glucose (and therefore energy levels).

After exercise your dietary goals are to provide adequate fluids plus protein and carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen and promote recovery.

NUTRITION:

An ideal pre-workout snack is a banana and a couple of oatcakes; this will give you a boost of energy without weighing you down.

Post-gym, try a chicken sandwich on wholemeal bread or a smoothie prepared with a handful of fresh or frozen berries, live yogurt, ice cold milk and some ground flaxseeds.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Everyday energy

HEALTH:

We all know that exercise improves your health and your physique, but it also benefits your energy levels and mood.

If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and find yourself flagging throughout the day, try the following tips to help you to remain energised.

EXERCISE:

1Research confirms that regular exercise gives you more energy, so always try to fit in some physical activity. Any kind of brisk movement will do; even walking the dog, doing the hoovering or working on your garden.

Get it done early in the day and your levels of the hormone melatonin will be higher at night, helping you to sleep better and feel more refreshed and alert the following day.

NUTRITION:

Although they provide a burst of short-lived fuel, refined carbohydrates will ultimately leave you feeling sluggish and tired after eating.

The trick for staying alert is to opt for nutrient-rich, wholegrain carbohydrates, paired with a source of protein. This combination releases energy more slowly and give you a gradual boost of long-lasting energy.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Sugar hit

HEALTH:

The more sugar you consume, the greater the rise in blood sugar and consequently in insulin levels within the body.

Insulin not only converts sugar into an instant energy source, it also encourages the storage of fat. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is therefore one of the most important factors in sustaining your energy levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

EXERCISE:

Research has shown that long-term, regular exercise can significantly improve the body’s ability to control fluctuating blood sugar levels.

During strenuous activity your body transports any available sugar directly to your muscles, thus helping to reduce excess sugar within the bloodstream (and preventing it from being stored as fat).

NUTRITION:

Try swapping white bread, white rice, white pasta and sugary cereals for nutrient-dense wholegrain alternatives which take longer to digest.

These foods release their sugar more slowly into your bloodstream, helping to reduce rapid insulin release and keep your energy levels and hunger under control.

 

© Sarah West Nutrition

Beat the plateau

HEALTH:

Feel like you’ve hit a wall with your progress? A plateau can be a common – and very frustrating – occurrence in a weight loss programme.

However, it is important not to become discouraged if you feel you’re not dropping the pounds quickly enough; you can soon get back on track by making some minor alterations to your routine. Whatever you do, don’t give up!

EXERCISE:

One of the best ways to overcome a weight loss plateau is through regular changes to your exercise routine.

By alternating your physical activities (being sure to include both aerobic exercises and weight lifting in your plan) you will both burn calories and build muscle. This can help compensate for any decrease in metabolism associated with your weight loss so far.

NUTRITION:

Try to eat smaller portions more frequently and never skip meals: taking the little and often approach can lead to a temporary boost in metabolism, whereas going without food only slows things down.

It can also help keep your blood sugar levels constant and prevent sugar cravings from creeping in and stalling your progress even further.

© Sarah West Nutrition