The breakfast trap

It's the most important meal of the day, but breakfast is often something we grab on the run. So are takeaway options a healthy choice, or just packed full of calories?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

We all know we should eat breakfast. We all know the research that says that those who do are more mentally alert. But somehow it's so much more tempting to spend an extra 10 minutes in bed. So we rush out of the door and grab breakfast on the run. And that isn't difficult these days. There are coffee bars on every corner. Not to mention sandwich shops, greasy spoons, supermarkets and corner shops selling breakfast in the shape of a bar with a wrapper round it.

Should it be the breakfast sandwich with bacon and egg or the Greek yoghurt with fruit? Let's not forget the enormous range of muffins that are available - although it might be worth pointing out that that roll of flab spilling over the top of your jeans is known as a muffin top, which tells you all you need to know about that particular option. Let us compare the Ultimate Breakfast Roll from Burger King, which has two rashers of bacon, one egg, HP sauce and a sausage patty in a bun. It has 514 calories and 30 grams of fat. But look at the Rise and Shine muffin from Starbucks. This contains sultanas, raisins, bran, apricots, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, honey, cinnamon, brown sugar and a little vanilla. Sounds good, doesn't it? But at 519 calories and 29.4g of fat, there's not much difference between that and Burger King.

While we're on the subject of calories, let's look at the coffee. The calorie content of a latte made with whole milk (which is what you will get unless you specifically ask for semi-skimmed or skimmed milk) almost constitutes a meal in itself. A cup of tea or coffee made at home with a splash of semi-skimmed milk comes in at around 20 calories. A 12oz latte from Pret A Manger clocks up 194 calories and 11g of fat. So what's the solution? When what seems like the healthy option is just as bad as the obviously naughty one, how do you negotiate your way through the breakfast trap?

Rebecca Foster, of the British Nutrition Foundation, says we should eat around 300 calories a day at breakfast. "Years ago, when people ate three meals a day and didn't snack, it was probably a good idea to have 500 calories at breakfast, but these days that's too many, given that people probably will have something at 11am," she says.

Foster says that a bowl of cereal is still a good way to start the day. "Fortified cereals are great as they provide fibre and micronutrients such as iron and zinc that we don't get enough of from the rest of our diet. A portion is about a handful and that should keep you going until mid-morning, when you can have a piece of fruit.

"A boiled egg with toast will also provide protein and fill you up, and there's nothing wrong with a traditional breakfast, as long as you grill and poach it and don't have it every day. And if you include tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans that's three of the recommended five portions of fruit and veg."

But if you're not at home, what do you choose? "You just need to exercise a little self-restraint," says Foster. "That Rise and Shine muffin has healthy ingredients such as nuts, seeds and bran, so that is definitely better than the breakfast bun, but it does have quite a lot of calories and sugar in it, so make it a treat rather than every day."

Marilyn Martin, a research dietitian at the department of human nutrition at Glasgow University, adds that breakfast is a vital meal that affects how you feel during the day. "So many people don't eat breakfast, but it's very important. If you just think about the name, it makes so much more sense. You are breaking the fast. You need to replenish your fuel levels and by eating you are stimulating your metabolism, which is good because you're using up energy to digest the food."

So you're in the café having to choose between the saturated fat, which is bad for your heart, or the sugar which will cause a blood-sugar surge and have you running for another snack an hour later.

But there is a solution. McDonald's. Yes, that bastion of fast food is offering the perfect breakfast on the go. Porridge. We all know we should have a filling breakfast of slow-release carbohydrates that will keep us going until lunch. Well, this is it. It costs 95p, it will fill you up and it's low in fat, low in sugar and a good source of fibre. And you also get to have that extra 10 minutes in bed.

THE GREASY SPOON BREAKFAST

FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST

£4.50

Calories: 775

Bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, toast and sausage with tea or coffee.

If you can get the bacon grilled and the eggs poached then this isn't all bad. You shouldn't do it every day but as a treat, why not? If you have everything listed above you will also have three of the five recommended fruit and veg portions for the day, particularly if you have a glass of orange juice on the side.

BACON SARNIE

£1.90

Calories: 300

If you ask for the bacon to be grilled and make sure it is lean back bacon between two slices of wholemeal bread, then you won't go far wrong. Add a slug of ketchup, which will give you a good dose of lycopene (an antioxidant found in tomatoes and processed tomato products which may help prevent prostate cancer and other forms of cancer as well as heart disease), and you will have had a tasty, nutritious and filling breakfast.

THE SANDWICH SHOP BREAKFAST

PRET A MANGER ALL-DAY BREAKFAST SANDWICH

£2.70

Free-range egg mayonnaise, bacon, ketchup, tomatoes, cress and seasoning on granary bread.

Calories per pack: 608

Fat: 35g

This is two breakfasts' worth of calories, and it will certainly keep you going until lunchtime. But it's also half the recommended fat allowance of 70g for women for the whole day. The granary bread and slices of tomato do give it some plus points but the mayonnaise is just adding empty calories.

PRET A MANGER ALL-DAY BREAKFAST BOWL

£1.70

A rhubarb compote topped with light Greek yoghurt and granola.

Calories per pack: 363

Fat: 15.1g

A much healthier option, although it may not keep you going until midday. If you need something mid-morning, try a piece of fruit or something carbohydrate-based such as a dried-fruit scone.

THE BURGER BAR BREAKFAST

McDONALD'S BACON, EGG AND CHEESE BAGEL

£1.79

Calories: 544

Fat: 24.1g, of which saturates, 10.1g

Bagels aren't too bad and the cheese will give you protein to fill you up, but this is very high in calories and saturated fat. There isn't much fibre, either.

McDONALD'S OATSO SIMPLE PORRIDGE WITH JAM

95p

Calories: 246

Fat: 5.4g, of which saturates, 2.4g

Not only is this possibly the cheapest breakfast you can have on the run but it's also reckoned to be the best. You can have it with sugar and jam or one without the other. Oats are complex carbs and provide a slow release of energy, making you feel full for longer and therefore less likely to snack.

THE 'ON-THE-GO' BREAKFAST

KELLOGG'S CRUNCHY NUT CEREAL BAR

37p

Calories per bar: 112

Fat: 4g

You can tell from the calories that this isn't going to fill you up. If you really think you might be about to fall over with hunger, then this will just about tide you over until you can get to the office canteen, but it's not enough to count as breakfast.

ALPEN CEREAL BAR APPLE AND BLACKBERRY WITH YOGHURT

£1.56 for a box of six

Calories: 120

Fat: 3.1g

Again, this won't carry you far, although it does at least have some protein in the form of yoghurt, and there is a nod in the direction of fruit. Having said that, if you have a proper breakfast and need a snack mid-morning then you could have one of these - just make sure it's not replacing a full meal.

THE COFFEE SHOP BREAKFAST

STARBUCKS RISE AND SHINE MUFFIN

£1.40

Sultanas, raisins, bran, apricots, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, honey, cinnamon, brown sugar and a little vanilla.

Calories: 519

Fat: 29.4g

The problem with this is that while it packs in the calories and does include some healthy ingredients such as nuts and seeds, it's unlikely to keep you going all morning, which means that you will be piling on the calories if you eat again at 11am. It's fine to have this once a week but don't do it every day.

STARBUCKS EXOTIC FRUIT SALAD

£2.69

Apple, melon, pineapple, orange, grapes

Calories: 101

Fat: 0.2g

This will provide you with natural sugars and some fibre, but again you are likely to need more than this to sustain you through the morning. It's a good start to the day and means you can have a sensible carbohydrate-based snack later in the morning without overdoing the calories.

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