What did you have for breakfast this week? Did you have the same or similar thing every day? Did you sit down and eat it like a proper meal before you went about your day, or did you grab a coffee, pastry or bowl of cereal at your desk?
For most of the people who come to see me with fertility problems the answer to this question is that breakfast is a treated more like a chore than a meal. They grab something quickly on the way out the door or eat a light snack at their desk between 9am and 10am. This is one of the first things I encourage my patients to change. Breakfast is genuinely the most important meal of the day. It is really important in enabling your body to handle the stress and mental challenges which face you, and without a good breakfast you are basically ‘running on empty’ for the first half of every day.
In the English speaking world and many other developed countries most people’s breakfasts consist mainly of simple carbohydrates and dairy, such as cereal and toast covered with a sugary spreads like jam or peanut butter. The effect of this sort of breakfast on your body is to give a short term boost to energy and brain function, but the majority of the calories you’ve eaten end up being stored as fat and sugar, leaving you feeling hungry, tired, and craving more carbohydrate. As the initial sugar-high wears off your body starts to run on adrenaline rather than genuine energy from food. It’s no wonder you need the caffeine hit from coffee and tea to keep you going until lunch.
So what does a good breakfast look like?
Sometimes, I tell my clients what I eat for breakfast just to see how they will react. It’s usually a look of horror or disbelief; but that only lasts until they try it and can see the benefits for themselves…
Breakfast, like any other meal, needs to have a balance of the right amount of protein, complex carbohydrates and fats. My breakfast might be leftover stew from the night before or a soup with a meat stock that contains pieces of chicken, beef or lamb or some pulses. For carbohydrate I tend to have a good pumpkin seed spelt bread. Occasionally (especially before travelling) I like to go Asian and I simmer some sea bass fillets and greens in a Clearspring Barley Miso broth with buckwheat noodles. (This miso paste also makes a great salad dressing – email me if you’d like the recipe.) These are all really easy to prepare in the morning; I just put the food in a saucepan on a low light when I get up, and by the time I’m showered and dressed my breakfast is ready to eat.
There are lots of different ways to make a great breakfast stew or soup, here’s a few of my favourites:
- Black bean stew: Fry some onions until soft, and add half a red pepper and a can of black beans. Open a can of beer (yes, beer!) and simmer all these until soft and the beer is almost gone. Add the other half of the red pepper, some spring onions and corn and serve with a dollop of sour cream and tortilla chips. Can be eaten hot or cold.
- Mixed vegetable soup with pearled spelt and split pea: Soften onions, celery, carrot and seasonal vegetables add plenty of fresh chicken or other meat stock along with the spelt and fresh or tinned split peas. Simmer together until the ingredients are soft. Liquidise some or all of the soup depending on how chunky you like it.
- Minestrone soup: As above but with a carton of chopped tomatoes and some finely sliced kale or savoy cabbage as well as pearl barley.
- Spicy chipotle and tomato soup: Fried onions, chipotle, and cumin softened, cooked with stock, a can of black beans and whizzed up with 10 slow roasted tomatoes.
- French pea soup: Fresh or frozen peas, softened lettuce, leek and sweet potato whizzed together with chicken stock and a sprig of mint.
If I’m in the mood for something lighter, then I usually have a cracker or toast with some sort of protein on top rather than a sugary spread. I tend to keep a good range of crackers in the house from the more unusual qinoa crackers to the ever-available Ryvita. If I’m having bread, then this pumpkin seed spelt is a particular favourite. For the protein I will usually opt for some kind of fish, from smoked salmon or tinned anchovies to home-made taramasalata or smoked mackerel pate. I team this with fresh herbs and some sliced raw vegetable, like peppers or tomatoes and I’m good to go. For those who can’t stomach oily fish in the morning, hummus is a great source of protein and is particularly tasty when teamed with fresh vegetables and a good quality olive oil.
Go to work on an egg?
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned eggs here, but that’s because I’m allergic to them, not because I’m not a big fan of them as good source of protein in the morning. Even better, they can be teamed up with some fish or vegetables to make a complete breakfast. When I make eggs for other people I like to mix in some chopped fresh herbs to give them that extra fresh flavour.
There’s lots of great ways to cook eggs, but here are some of my personal favourites:
- Scrambled and served on a bed of smoked salmon, red peppers and goats cheese
- Frittata made with 6 eggs, courgettes, fennel, spring onions, slices of sweet potato. This will keep for several days and you can cut off a slice each morning.
- Omelette made with smoked mackerel and served with a dollop of crème fraiche.
You may have noticed from the photos that I like my breakfasts to be colourful. In fact, that’s how I like all my meals to be. As a rough guide if you don’t have at least three different colours in your meal then you’re probably not getting a varied enough diet.
Butter…you’d better believe it!
In discussing breakfast, I’d be remiss if I did not address the issue of one of my favourite foods – butter. Fats are so important for enhancing health and fertility, and good quality butter is an important fat. You may be surprised to hear that it is generally harder for me to help a woman who is underweight get pregnant compared to one who is slightly overweight. Fashion in our society bombards us with images of undernourished women made up and dressed to look desirable (more about this in a later post), but the simple fact is that ‘skinny’ is not the same as healthy. I ask my clients to reintroduce butter into their diets as a spread rather than the many alternative margarines or ‘spreadable’ butters which tend to be full of trans-fatty acids. I came across this article in the Guardian which discusses the myths around saturated fats and the under-utilisation of eggs in the diet which encompasses my views really well.
Breakfast is Brain Food
These foods are all good brain foods; important for getting the balance between brain, gut and body started off on the right foot in the morning. Like every meal, breakfast should be multi-coloured, attractive to the eye and full of dense nutrients. Eating a proper meal for breakfast meal keeps your blood sugar level steady, it won’t make you put on weight and will help to regulate your mood and insulin levels. Just as I encouraged you in my last post to try making some changes for a week, I’d also encourage you to try changing your breakfasts for a week and see how different you feel.
Happy eating everyone!