What's the Key to a Healthy Breakfast?

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Breakfast seems to be the most controversial of all meals. Some of us love it, some don’t bother with it, most of us don’t have much time for it, and many are not sure what to have for it.

If you do enjoy breakfast, you may wonder about the optimal composition of breakfast. Should you include carbohydrates or leave them out? Will that make a difference on your cognitive performance during the day? Will a little snack be sufficient? Is it ok to include carbs?

Like most things in nutrition, this depends very much on the individual. The amount and composition of our breakfast should be dictated by our preference (for more information on the importance of breakfast head over to this article).

Whether you opt for a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, such as porridge with banana and honey, or one rich in protein and fats, such as eggs with smoked salmon, there is no evidence that the difference in macronutrient composition will have an impact on cognitive performance (1).

That being said, breakfast is no exception to what is generally considered a balanced meal.

This would be a meal that includes all macro-nutrients, namely some carbohydrates, protein and fat, ideally in conjunction with some fruit and / or vegetables. Fruits and vegetable intake should be considered in every meal and snack because increased consumption of vegetables and fruits comes with a whole host of benefits, including increased intake of fibre, which promotes gut health, and increased intake of vitamins, minerals and bioactive plant compounds, which are thought to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity (2).

Indeed, having a balanced plate of all macronutrients plus fruit and vegetables for breakfast is not always feasible and / or enjoyable. Whether you are rushed between the childrens’ school run and the commute to the office, or just fancy a bagel on the go, rather than a fully-fledged meal, it is always possible to opt for the more nutritious side of the spectrum. The more variety you can add the better. A wholegrain bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and cucumber, for instance, will include more fibre, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, than an almond croissant.

While having a croissant once in a while is not an issue whatsoever, in order to meet nutrient requirements, we need to look at the composition of all our meals in the grand scheme of things, and breakfast is no exception to this. Most of us don’t meet the recommended amount of daily fibre intake, which we predominantly get from fruit, vegetables and whole grain. Many of us tend to eat more refined carbohydrates, trans fatty acids and saturated fats than we need.

So rather than focusing on what to eat in our first meal of the day, let’s focus on our overall diet over the long term. Take each day or week as a whole and create an awareness of your overall diet.


1. Emilien et al., The effect of the macronutrient composition of breakfast on satiety and cognitive function in undergraduate students (2017), European Journal of Nutrition 56 (6), pp 2139–2150

2. Van Breda et al., Smart Combinations of Bioactive Compounds in Fruits and Vegetables May Guide New Strategies for Personalized Prevention of Chronic Diseases, Molecular Nutrition and Food Research (2017), 62 (1)

3. Edefonti et al., The effect of breakfast composition and energy contribution on cognitive and academic performance: a systematic review (2014), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100 (2), pp 626–656

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