Breakfast, as they say, is the most important meal of the day. But not all meals that break our overnight fast are created equal. It’s fairly clear that consuming a bacon sandwich or a fry up every morning isn’t the best way to start each day.
But what about meals that promise to be nutritious keep you full until lunchtime, yet contain a shocking amount of hidden sugar? Eating a sugary breakfast is just as unhealthy as one high in saturated fat, just in a different way.
The NHS states that healthy adults should have no more than 30g of sugar a day. That's around 7 teaspoons. But when we consider that a standard can of cola contains 9 teaspoons, many of us are going over. So we really should consider how much of the sweet stuff we're having to start the day.
The Healthy Breakfast Cereals with Added Sugar
When we talk about eating and an unhealthy way to start your day, we don’t just mean knowingly having a sugary breakfast of pancakes covered in syrup or frosted cereals. Many of the meals we think are healthy might not be as virtuous as we first thought they were.
Many seemingly ‘healthy’ cereals sold to us as filling, balanced options are in fact packed with sugar and far from the perfect breakfast. The same goes for easy breakfasts, such as on the go cereal bars, granola topped yoghurts and porridge pots.
So what should we be having for a nutritious breakfast if we want to avoid sugar? What impact does it have on our energy levels, health and skin if we start the day knowingly or unknowingly with a bowl full of the sweet stuff?
Here’s our lowdown on sugar and getting the best energy packed start to the day.
What Are Blood Sugar Levels?
We hear the term “blood sugar levels” mentioned a lot. But what exactly are they? Your blood sugar level is a measure of the amount, or concentration, of a sugar called glucose in your blood at any given time. (Which is why it's also referred to as blood glucose levels.)
The level of glucose in the blood tends to be at its lowest in the morning, after we’ve been fasting. It then peaks after eating, especially so after having a meal that contains sugar or carbohydrate. Then we experience highs and lows of blood glucose throughout the day, how extreme these are, will depend on what we choose to consume.
But what's the link between carbs and sugar?
The Relationship Between Sugar and Carbs
Carbohydrates are complex molecules that the body breaks down into their constituent parts - simple sugars - during digestion. And they're not all to be demonised.
But it's the choice of carbs that's important. White processed carbs, such as white bread, pasta and rice, are easier to break down and are therefore turned into sugars very quickly after consuming them, flooding the blood with sugar. Their wholemeal, brown counterparts are much harder to digest and therefore have a less dramatic effect on blood glucose.
Low Sugar Breakfast and the Glycemic Index
All foods that contain carbohydrates have a glycemic index, or GI, and are given a GI number depending on the effect they have on blood glucose levels. Pure cane sugar has a GI of 100 and for comparison, water would have a GI of 0, as it has zero effect on blood glucose levels. Eating a spoonful of sugar would create a huge spike in blood levels because the amount of sugar per teaspoon is 100%.
Therefore, many of us, including people with diabetes, make food choices based on the GI of a food. As a general rule, sweets, cakes, pastries and white bread and pasta all have a high GI. Brown bread and pasta and foods that have low sugar per serving or that are low in carbohydrates all have a low GI.
The Benefits of Sugar
Before we go onto to talking about easy low sugar breakfast recipes and why they're important, we need to mention why we need some sugar in our diet. We need some sugar, particularly glucose, which is the brain’s preferred source of energy, in order to get through each day.
Without sugar, we’d feel weak, lethargic and foggy brained, unable to function or concentrate. Our work would suffer and we'd struggle to make decisions, focus, exercise or go about our daily lives.
Should I Eat Sugar in the Morning?
When we’re in a fasted state, say in the morning before we've eaten the first meal of the day, the brain is still using 60% of the body’s glucose.
Consuming carbohydrate-heavy foods in the morning therefore gives us the energy we need to power our brains, muscles and all other bodily functions.
So yes, carbs in the morning can be useful, but we need to watch the grams of sugar per day we're also consuming.
The Benefits of a Low-Sugar Breakfast
If we eat a lot of carbohydrates, then our blood glucose levels will surge. This is especially the case if we choose processed carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta. These kinds of food have already had their complex carbohydrates partially broken down, so when we consume them, the body doesn’t have to do much to quickly turn them into sugar, flooding the blood.
Opting for wholewheat, or brown unprocessed bread and pasta instead means that the body has to work harder and for longer to break them down. When carbohydrates are broken down quickly, we get a surge in energy, quickly followed by a slump. On the other hand, more complex carbs take longer to break down and therefore their energy is released more slowly and is more sustained.
Therefore, choosing breakfast foods to keep our blood glucose levels stable is key to being energised throughout the day. That way, we’re more likely to be able to concentrate on our work, have enough left in the tank to work out after work and get through the afternoon without reaching for a chocolate bar for energy.
Overnight Oats, Avocados and Whole Grains: Breakfasts that Are Low in Sugar
So how do we eat properly and make breakfast to help keep our blood glucose levels stable?
Here’s a few top tips:
- Swap white carbs for brown carbs
- Avoid consuming sugary foods such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits and pastries
- Choose more soluble fibre such as oats, nuts and beans which help to slow down how quickly carbohydrates are broken down into sugars and absorbed into the blood
- Stay hydrated - being dehydrated encourages the liver to release more sugar into the blood
- Make vegetables, and to a lesser extent, fruit (whilst full of vitamins and minerals, fruit also contains a sugar called fructose) the main part of each meal
(If you’re diabetic or suffer with hypo- or hyperglycemia, then make sure you seek the advice of your GP or specialist consultant when it comes to the right diet for you.)
The Benefits of Avoiding Sugar in the Morning
A huge part of maintaining blood glucose levels is starting the day right with healthy, no-sugar breakfast recipes. Because slow release, complex carbohydrates such as those in wholemeal toast get broken down into sugars more slowly than refined, processed ones such as those in frosted flakes - and they keep blood glucose levels more consistent.
Eating a high sugar quick breakfast such as sugary frosted flakes will send blood sugar levels surging and just a couple of hours later, they will crash again. This will mean that you’ll be hungry and you'll be craving more sugar to get back to the dizzying heights of blood glucose that you had before.
You’ll then grab the nearest sugary cereal bar, biscuit or pastry and you’re sucked into a vicious cycle of sugar fuelled overeating.
We’re not saying to never eat sugar. After all, sweet treats are nice. And as we mentioned above, we need it, preferably from slow release wholewheat carbs. We’re saying to eat treats in moderation, and avoid them at breakfast, at least during the working week.
Low Sugar Cereal and Our Top Breakfast Ideas
So, what constitutes a low sugar breakfast? Here’s some ideas, most of which are high in protein, which like carbs, is a macronutrient that also provides slow release energy. In fact, protein is the most filling macronutrient, the third and final macronutrient is fat. So the key is, to get our energy from lean protein and healthy fats instead.
Here are quick ideas for when time is short, and others are more indulgent, slow paced great breakfast ideas that are ideal for the weekend.
- Porridge made with oats, semi skimmed or plant milk with a pinch of cinnamon
- Shop bought muesli with no added sugar (but be mindful of brands that contain more dried fruit than nuts, seeds and grains)
- Homemade granola bars such as these made with jumbo oats
- Overnight chia seed pot
- Peanut butter (or any other nut butter such as almond butter) on wholemeal toast
- Baked beans on wholemeal toast
- Scrambled or poached eggs on wholemeal toast
- Scrambled tofu on wholemeal toast
- Avocado toast (wholemeal, obviously)
- Low fat or meat free sausages, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms
- Boiled eggs, spinach and asparagus dippers
- Avocado and banana smoothie
How Sugar Affects the Skin
Excess sugar doesn’t just mess with our energy levels and potentially lead to type 2 diabetes and piling on the pounds. It’s also an inflammatory food, which means that consuming lots of it can lead to a build up of inflammation in the body.
This is because, when we consume sugar, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, that helps the body deal with the excess sugar in the blood. The more sugar, the more insulin and subsequently, the more inflammation as insulin causes inflammation in high doses.
Since chronic inflammation can lead to a worsening of skin conditions such as acne. If you have problem skin, cutting down on sugary foods could help to improve your skin. And what better way to start than with breakfast?!
Looking After Your Skin with Sönd
Regardless of your sugar intake at breakfast, and any other time of day, looking after your skin is important. Our range of alkalising, specialist skincare products as been developed, by us, to soothe and nurture stressed our skin, Give us a try!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.