Why those wanting to avoid over-indulging over the festive season should eat breakfast (but not cornflakes)

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For many of us, this time of year will bring with it an increased risk of us consuming more than is strictly needed. A few additional pounds can quite easily find their way onto our frames and scales, which can lead us to feel in need of a serious overhaul come the New Year. I have no desire to encourage particular self-restraint or sacrifice, but if there was a way to quell a tendency to over-consume during the festive season without any sense of deprivation, then we’d consider it, right?

With this in mind, the main piece of advice I’d like to give is to eat breakfast. My experience in practice is that individuals who eschew breakfast are prone to over-eating later in the day. There is even some evidence to support the notion that getting a decent breakfast down us can put a natural brake on our overall consumption of food throughout the day [1].

Before you reach for the cornflakes though, I’d like to share with you the results of a study published earlier this month that compared the physiological effects of two different breakfast cereals (Kellogg’s cornflakes and a fibre rich cereal known as ‘Fiber One’) [2]. First of all, scientists tested the glycaemic index of these cereals. The GI of the fibre-rich cereal was found to be 49 (moderate). On the other hand, they calculated the GI of the cornflakes to be 125 (one hundred and twenty-five). In this setting, it turned out that, weight for weight, cornflakes disrupted blood sugar levels to a greater extent than pure glucose (the GI of glucose is 100). That’s one reason not to reach for the cornflakes.

Here’s another: the scientists also measured the insulin response to the two cereals. Not surprisingly, the cornflakes caused higher levels of insulin in the body. Actually, the rate of insulin secretion after the cornflakes was more than twice that after the high-fibre cereal. It’s worth bearing in mind that insulin tends to stimulate fat deposition in the body. More insulin makes it more likely that blood sugar levels will be driven to sub-normal levels later on ” something that is likely to promote hunger.

Another hormone that has the capacity to influence appetite is ‘leptin’. In the case of this particular hormone, higher levels actually reduce appetite. In this recent study, the scientists also measured leptin levels after each of the two cereals had been consumed. Eating cornflakes led to a rate of leptin product about a third of that produced in response to the high-fibre cereal.

What this study shows is that eating a high GI cereal is more likely to lead to fat accumulation and less likely to satisfy compared to a lower GI cereal. With regard to appetite, this research is in line with a bunch of other studies which show that lower GI foods sate the appetite more effectively than higher GI fare. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that studies have found that, calorie for calorie, protein is more sating than either carbohydrate or fat.

So, what options are there available for those who want to get the day off to a low GI, protein rich start. A cooked breakfast is obviously an option from time to time. However, as a stock breakfast item, my suggestion would be to go for Bircher muesli. The key ingredients used to make this are oats, plain yoghurt, nuts (e.g. ground almonds) and perhaps some dried fruit or grated apple. Proportion wise, I’d go for something like 3 cups of oats, along with 2 each of yoghurt, ground nuts and fruit. Mix these in a bowl with some water to make something the consistency of porridge. The end result will keep for a few days in the Tupperware container in the fridge.

One of the great things about Bircher muesli is that it is made up of quite natural, unprocessed foods. Also, there’s a fair amount of nutritional variety here too. But one other factor that is in its favour is the fact that most individuals find they only need to eat relatively small portions of this stuff to feel like they’ve really eaten something. In other words, a little can go a long way. This is especially important for those who find they are not especially ravenous in the morning. Just a few spoons of Bircher muesli in the morning not only is nourishing, but can really help to keep the appetite from running riot later on in the day, especially when temptation is all around.


1. de Castro JM. The time of day of food intake influences overall intake in humans. Journal of Nutrition 2004 134:104-111

2. Barkoukis H, et al. A High Glycemic Meal Suppresses the Postprandial Leptin Response in Normal Healthy Adults. Ann Nutr Metab. 2007 Dec 10;51(6):512-518 [Epub ahead of print]

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