What's for breakfast?

A recent study reveals that urban India has got the all-important morning meal all wrong. We ask the experts how to plan a quick and nutritious first meal and start the day on the right note

Published: 15th September 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2013 01:00 PM   |  A+A-


It wasn’t much of a secret to begin with, but now our collective apathy towards the morning meal has the stamp of a survey. A recent study on the breakfast habits of Indians has pointed out some rather worrying trends.

A large majority of people in Mumbai (79 per cent), Delhi (76 per cent), Kolkata (75 per cent) and Chennai (60 per cent) have a nutritionally inadequate breakfast with many adolescents (especially girls) skipping it all together. The research conducted by Malathi Sivaramakrishnan, director, Research Centre at Nirmala Niketan, College of Home Science, Mumbai, surveyed a sample size of 3,600 people in the age group of 8 to 40.

An ideal breakfast, say nutritionists, is a combination of carbohydrates and proteins. “Carbs release energy quickly so you need to couple it with proteins. If you’re having missi roti, eat it with vegetables or curd or have multigrain bread with eggs,” says Cheenu Parashar Vig, senior clinical nutritionist, Max Healthcare, Delhi.

A common mistake people make, says Mumbai-based fitness expert Leena Mogre, is to have bread, butter and tea for breakfast. “It is zero nutrition,” she says. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is a fast that you break 8-9 hours after having your dinner. It is important to have carbs and proteins for a balanced meal.”

Skipping breakfast is another habit red-flagged by the study. One in four people skip meals, usually breakfast. While adults may be doing so due to lack of time, many adolescents do so with the intention of losing weight. Skipping breakfast, say nutritionists, does just the opposite. It makes you put on weight.

“Start right. Girls who skip breakfast to lose weight are doing themselves more harm than good. Skipping the morning meal makes you crave junk food later,” says Parashar. “Moreover, studies suggest people who have their first meal within an hour of waking up or as early as possible lose weight very quickly.”

“If you don’t have breakfast, then your muscles start breaking down to provide energy to your body,” says Mogre. “And you eat double for lunch than you’d have eaten otherwise,” she says.

“Your body goes into starvation mode,” says clinical dietician Pooja Makhija. “So whatever you eat later, will not be used to burn energy but be stored as fat, leading to weight gain,” she says. “When it becomes a daily habit, it starts affecting energy levels, hair and skin. Ultimately it would lead to a burnout.” Lack of time, says Makhija, is no excuse. “Do we not take out time to brush our teeth every day? Having a power-packed breakfast is just as important,” she argues.

Another mistake is to just have fruits or a glass of milk or juice. “It is not a complete meal. Fruits are best eaten as fillers during the day since they contain no proteins,” says Parashar. “Also, many have doughnuts or muffins in the morning that are no good. They are just full of sugar. Canned juices are no better. Eating a fruit is better any day, but if you must have juice then go for a freshly squeezed glass of juice.”

What experts recommend is to eat home-cooked food. And that happens to be the sole saving grace in the survey. 91 per cent of those who took the survey said that ideally their first meal of the day should be home-cooked.

“If you are really pressed for time and it must be quick, stuff your sandwich with veggies or have stuffed idlis, vegetable chilla or oatmeal porridge,” says Parashar. “Have complex carbs such as an oatmeal that slowly releases carbohydrates into your bloodstream. You could have cereals too, but some cereals have a high glycemic index which means the energy released is instant but short-lived,” says Mogre.

“Bring variety into your breakfast,” advises Makhija. “Have a vegetable omelette or moong dal chilla with vegetables or poha or upma. My ground rules for any meal is that it should have the five fingers of nutrition—carbohydrates (poha, idli, cornflakes, bread and eggs or stuffed paranthas), proteins (sprouts, milk, paneer, eggwhite), fats (oil), vitamins and minerals (fruits and vegetables). These should make a powerful fist.”

Idli-sambhar emerged as the most nutritious breakfast—a complete meal—according to the survey. To make dosa, upma and idli as daily fare, if not living down south, would be a bit time consuming, right? So then are instant mixes acceptable substitutes? “Ready-to-eat foods are high in fats and they have more of salt and preservatives in them. But going for it once or twice a week should be fine unless you have weight or high blood pressure issues,” says Makhija. “Moderation, much like variety in diet, is key.” 

Some healthy options

 A quarter plate of vegetable poha with a bowl of steamed sprouts

 Egg (s) with multigrain bread and a glass of milk

 Missi roti with vegetables and a glass of buttermilk

 Kidney beans on toast with milk or cold coffee

 Palak/methi/dal paranthas with milkshake

 Vegetable stuffed idlis with sambhar and a glass of buttermilk

 Masala dosa with sambhar and buttermilk

*By Cheenu Parashar Vig, senior clinical nutritionist, Max Healthcare, Delhi.


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