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We all know how important eating breakfast is, but not all breakfasts are born equal. There is a gulf between, say, a bowl of sugary Coco Pops and a nutrient-rich slice of granary toast topped with poached eggs. Breakfast is meant to fuel us for the day ahead, which got us thinking: What is the best breakfast to eat if you want to be seriously productive? To answer that question, we called on three nutritionists, and let us tell you—it was not what we were expecting at all. Prawn cocktail or camembert on toast, anyone?
Keep scrolling as we let the experts reveal what should be on your breakfast plate during the working week.
Fill Your Plate Right
“The rule to follow is to fill half your plate with fruit or vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, berries, banana or even a small glass of juice), a quarter of your plate with slow-release carbohydrates (granary bread or oats), and a quarter of your plate with protein (eggs, meat, fish, beans, dairy or soy),” explains Jo Travers, registered dietitian and author of The Low-Fad Diet (£7).
“One of the key things about breakfast is slow-release energy to start your day off well. If you skip breakfast, it can leave you feeling lethargic and distracted. I personally have granary toast with camembert and cherry tomatoes most mornings. This gives me slow-release carbs (from the toast), water-soluble vitamins (from the tomatoes), and protein and calcium (from the cheese).
“And don’t forget the fluids! Always make sure you start the day properly hydrated. The evidence shows that even mild dehydration can have an impact on cognition, lead to feelings of low energy, and make tasks seem more difficult.”
Use Food to Activate Your Brain
“It’s important to choose foods that synthesise dopamine, a brain active hormone that promotes energy, motivation and positivity. For this, you need to eat two amino acids: tyrosine and phenylalanine,” says Peter Cox, clinical nutritionist at Omniya. “They are found in protein-rich foods, and the best sources are shellfish, fish, meat and dark beans. And while they’re not traditionally thought of as breakfast foods, those are best to eat in the morning.
“A bowl of beans or kidney beans is a good choice, as are salmon mackerel and scrambled eggs or even meat, like a little ham and cheese with fruit, or British-style bacon and eggs. However, be careful to choose meat that isn’t too processed. Fresh meat works best, such as millet steak. Prawn cocktail is also fantastic, if a little unusual to eat first thing,” he adds. “Like sweet foods? Dark chocolate and berries are dopamine-rich.
“Foods like cereal often have a soporific effect and slows us down. People who eat cereal in the morning will often quickly become tired again and will need a coffee, whereas if you’re eating a protein-rich meal, you shouldn’t need the coffee for that additional energy boost.”
Cox isn’t the only nutritionist who recommend breaking out of the cereal box. “Don’t abide by the traditionally labelled breakfast items such as toast, fruit, dairy or cereals. Be daring and feel free to eat vegetables be that in a smoothie, cooked or raw, or ‘dinner food,’ as long as it satisfies you and helps you ensure a good intake of protein, wholesome carbohydrates and a good fibre intake,” says Filip Koidis, W1 nutritionist. “In Japan, alongside more traditional eggs, you’ll find rice porridge, tofu and steamed rice on the menu.”
A protein-rich breakfast is key if you need to concentrate at work, he says: “Include some protein-dense foods like low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, nuts and seeds, eggs, lean meats or protein powders, as they won’t just fill you up but studies have shown that high-protein breakfasts improve cognition and memory compared to high-sugar ones.”
Wholesome sources of carbohydrates are also key, says Koidis. “Oats, grains, quinoa, sweet potato and root vegetables will energise you after your prolonged fast through the night and will provide you with slow-releasing energy throughout the day and consequently keep those cravings at bay, which can cause you to get sidetracked at work.”
The Short Story:
Fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with slow-release carbohydrate and a quarter with protein.
This will fill you preventing you feeling lethargic or distracted by hunger.
Activate your brain. Protein-rich foods synthesise dopamine, which promotes energy, motivation and positivity.
Avoid sugary cereals, which quickly spike energy and then lead to a slump.
Be daring! Don't just eat "breakfast" foods. Sweet potatoes offer slow-release energy.