Is your breakfast making you fat?

It has more effect on your weight than any other meal – but the low-fat choice might not be the healthiest. Dr Rosie Haining tests the options
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Think before you skip your breakfast. Earlier this year a Dutch study of 35,000 people found that those who skipped breakfast were more than twice as likely to be overweight. Breakfast eaters were slimmer even if they consumed more calories in total. Other research suggests if you employ folkloric advice and breakfast like a king, you are less likely to gain weight and succumb to overeating throughout the rest of the day.

But if you really want to stay slender and healthy, what you eat is important. One study found that cornflakes stimulated the fat-storage hormone, insulin, more than pure sugar.

The key is to watch the glycaemic load (GL) of the foods you choose. GL is a way to work out the effect foods have on blood sugar. Low GL foods, such as those rich in protein, will keep you satisfied for longer and prevent snacking. High GL foods, including many commercial breakfast cereals, raise blood sugar rapidly and cause more energy to be stored as fat.

Dr John Briffa, a nutritionist and the author of The True You Diet, runs clinics in two north London hospitals. He says: "Without a good breakfast, many people struggle to get control over their eating. The most common breakfasts – packaged cereals and toast – tend not to satisfy the appetite for long and provoke low blood sugar, which actually stimulates appetite, particularly for sweet starchy food."

Dr Mark Liponis, a diet guru whose Massachusetts medical spa has entertained celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Helena Christensen, advises those who are looking to lose weight to eat protein for breakfast, particularly eggs, protein powders or nuts.

So what is the best way to begin the day? GP Dr Rosie Haining tried 10 different breakfasts to test the theories of Dr Briffa and Dr Liponis.

For more nutritional advice from Dr Briffa visit

The best way to start your day: an expert guide
Interviews by Lucy Mayhew

Portion size: 50g
Calories: 248
Fat per 100g: 9.4g
Protein per 100g: 5.5g
Carbohydrate per 100g: 60g
GL: Low

"This looked delicious and tasted excellent. It contains nuts and seeds, so I was surprised by how hungry I was by 11am, when I only had time for an apple. I was hungry again an hour later and devoured a pork pie between house calls."

Dr John Briffa, nutritionist, says: "This has some lovely protein-rich nuts and seeds but probably not enough to keep Dr Haining going until lunch. It's sweetened with fructose, which people think is healthier because it has a low GI and is more natural than white sugar. But studies on animals show the same levels of weight gain and health troubles with fructose as you find with regular sugar."

Portion size: 50g
Calories: 163
Fat per 100g: 2g
Protein per 100g: 10g
Carbs per 100g: 67g
GL: Medium

"These tasted processed and like cardboard. A very large bowl was enough to keep me comfortable until midday but I derived no psychological satisfaction from them."

Dr Briffa says: "This is a rather nutritionally inferior breakfast. The fibre may help people keep going for longer but this doesn't automatically mean it's nutritionally rich and healthy. Although Dr Haining didn't mention any digestive problems, we're not adapted to digest bran, which can be an irritant and lead to bloating and fatigue for some."

Portion size: 30g
Calories: 120
Fat per 100g: 10g
Protein per 100g: 17.5g
Carbs per 100g: 5g
GL: Low

"This is the breakfast meal provided by a new delivery diet programme, which I ate on the morning of a gruelling all-day conference. I felt cheated when I poured out the minute portion of nut clusters and wondered how on earth I would keep going. But once I'd added lots of milk it looked like a proper meal – I was astonished by how well I functioned all day. Sitting in a dark, warm lecture theatre, I concentrated for hours on end without feeling drowsy. I was so surprised not to feel hungry at elevenses – four hours after my breakfast. Even at lunch I wasn't amazingly hungry."

Dr Briffa says: "This looks like the perfect antidote to pre-packaged cereals. If you haven't the time to make your own protein-rich breakfast that won't flood the bloodstream with sugar, this has more than two-and-a-half times more protein than the muesli and it's a smaller portion, showing that it is not just volume that dictates how filling a meal can be. The nuts are great for holding appetite and people shouldn't worry about the fattening effects of them – a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed 12 studies which found no increase in weight when people added nuts to their diets."

Portion size: 280g
Calories: 350
Fat per 100g: 55g
Protein per 100g: 46g
Carbs per 100g: 17.6g
GL: Low

"I ate this on a Sunday and felt sleepy afterwards but then had plenty of energy to enjoy a six-mile bike ride and there was no need for lunch. Nor did I feel like the tea and cake I ate at 4pm simply because the rest of the family were."

Dr Briffa says: "As an occasional breakfast, this is fine. Adding something like a grilled tomato could blunt the effects of a higher-fat meal like this. It's a bit rich in salt but animal fat has become an over-demonised given the dearth of evidence that it increases the risk of either heart disease or obesity. In fact, a review of four studies by the Cochrane Collaboration, a respected international research body, found that low-fat diets often led to weight gain after 18 months."



Portion size: 250ml
Calories: 113
Fat per 100ml: 0.1
Protein per 100ml: 0.6
Carbs per 100ml: 12.6

Scoop of Vianesse Protein Powder

Portion size: 9g
Calories: 165
Fat per 100ml: 1g
Protein per 100g: 67.6g
Carbs per 100g: 20.2g

"I was so surprised by this. Smoothies taste great but leave me grumpy within hours. I had a subjective mistrust of the powdered protein but it thickened the smoothie and turned it into a meal, making me sit down and eat with a spoon. It tasted neither synthetic nor chemical and I felt nourished and perfectly comfortable until my lunch at 1.30pm."

Dr Briffa says: "Smoothies are better than fruit juices, which don't have enough whole fruit to give long-term energy, but they're still packed with fruit sugar, producing the energy slump and irritability Dr Haining talks about. The protein powder is a great idea to keep the appetite from returning with a vengeance."

Fat per 100g: 8g
Protein per 100g: 11g
Carbohydrate per 100g: 60g
Portion size: 50g
Calories: 185
Fat per 100g: 7.2g
Protein per 100g: 11g
Carbohydrate per 100g: 65.7g
GL: Low

"I usually add plain yoghurt and a handful of pecan nuts to porridge but for the experiment I simply ate porridge. Surgery overran and by midday I was achingly hungry with a headache."

Dr Briffa says: "Oats release sugar slowly and research suggests the soluble fibre in oats can help reduce cholesterol, but some people need more protein than others to keep them going. All Dr Haining's responses tally with someone in need of higher protein. By adding nuts, or a scoop of protein powder and fresh fruit, she'd not only have fared better, she'd have a less one-dimensional meal with three decent foods instead of one."

Portion size: 45g
Calories: 156
Fat per 100g: 2.2g
Protein per 100g: 6.5g
Carbs per 100g: 68.8g
GL: Medium

"This was desperately uninteresting and starchy. I finished surgery early and, as a pure extravagance, I ate a banana roll. I ate carbohydrate-heavy meals for the rest of the day and felt blocked and a bit bloated."

Dr Briffa says: "The ingredients list is almost entirely made up of foods that convert to glucose quickly when digested. Protein and fat slow the speed at which sugar is released into the bloodstream, so adding yoghurt or more nuts would probably have reduced the risk of succumbing to the banana roll, which would have tipped the system into a hypoglycaemic state. This can trigger cravings for more starchy foods, just as Dr Haining experienced."

Portion size: 85g
Calories: 355 kcal
Fat per 100g: 18.2g
Protein per 100g: 5.1g
Carbohydrate per 100g: 42.7g
GL: High

"This was the most horrific breakfast. I was hungry immediately after I'd finished and an hour later I ate another muffin. I got indigestion, a headache, my concentration levels were below normal and I ate a lot more than usual."

Dr Briffa says: "This is equivalent to eating four teaspoons of sugar. The body reacts by releasing lots of insulin, meaning blood sugar levels then dip too low, which is why Dr Haining would have felt hungry again so quickly."

Portion size: 90g
Calories: 258
Fat per 100g: 1.45g
Protein per 100g: 5.8g
Carbs per 100g: 59g
GL: High

"I had two doorstep wedges of white bread because I knew a single slice and marmalade wouldn't get me through surgery. Physically, I felt ok, but I was desperate for biscuits by 10:30am."

Dr Briffa says: "Scientists have devised a table ranking foods according to their nutrient density and bread – whether it's white or wholemeal – scores poorly; even tinned pears score better. All bread has a high glycemic index, which will predispose you to hunger not long after eating."

Portion Size: 280g
Calories: 463
Fat per 100g: 17.3
Protein per 100g: 16.8
Carbohydrates per 100g: 0.85
GL rating: Low

"This was as quick as cereal and made me feel comfortably full all day. Even though I didn't have the chance to eat lunch until 3pm, I was only mildly peckish."

Dr Briffa says: "Protein has been found to curb appetite more than carbohydrate or fat. The salmon is a good source of essential fats and eggs are nutritious."