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

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]

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

  1. SMcDonald 21 December 2007 at 3:01 pm #

    A good breakfast that I have most days is, porridge (half a cup of organic oats) made with water and eaten with fruit and seeds. I use frozen blueberries and summer fruits – put the required quantity of fruit in a covered bowl the previous evening to defrost overnight in the fridge. I also use a handful of mixed (organic) dried fruit (currants, sultanas, raisins). As these usually have a vegetable fat on them, I wash and drain them in hot then cold water before adding to the defrosted fruit, together with a glug of Innocent detox smoothy (the purple one with no apple juice in it). After cooling the porridge, I plonk it on the top of the fruity mixture and sprinkle sunflower seeds over (or occasionally some other ‘sprinkle’ mix). I find this relatively small breakfast more than adequate and often only need a banana and one other piece of fruit for lunch!
    (For the no breakfast or grab a quick coffee brigade, this might seem a lot of bother, but it does NOT take long to produce and, once a routine is formed, takes no time at all – well so it seems.

  2. Anna 21 December 2007 at 4:19 pm #

    Completely echoes my breakfast experiences. Cold cereals raise my blood glucose too fast and high (Cheerios was the worse food I ever tested for these results), then I get very hungry a short time later.

    But I find that three eggs cooked over easy in a generous amount of butter is a *very* fast easy breakfast to cook every day and I don’t begin to get hungry until hours later.

  3. Carol 21 December 2007 at 7:07 pm #

    My favourite breakfast, also very popular with my nutrition clients, is porridge made with water and oat groats soaked overnight, or oat flakes. When it’s cooked add a desertspoon of tahini, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a desertspoon of ground linseeds stirred in just before eating. The protein and fat from the seeds lowers the GL considerably. Keeps you going all morning. The tahini is packed with calcium, the linseeds add omega-3’s and fibre, and the cinnamon helps with blood sugar levels. Gluten-free variations are buckwheat groats or whole rice.

  4. lu 22 December 2007 at 1:13 am #

    soused herring on blackbread, perfect.

  5. Cindy Moore 22 December 2007 at 3:12 am #

    If I can’t have eggs and meat for breakfast my second choice is yogurt. I use whole milk yogurt (1/2c) and add an ounce of berries and an ounce of chopped walnuts. It’s very filling and sticks with me for hours!

  6. Tiggy 22 December 2007 at 7:51 am #

    What about branflakes or oatflakes?

  7. Deborah 22 December 2007 at 5:42 pm #

    I have been making my own muesli for decades…. I make up a huge preserving pan full which lasts about six weeks. The grain is jumbo oats – plus many dried fruits and nuts and seeds. I have this with two pieces of chopped up fruit, some ginger, and soya milk. Delicious and keeps me going to lunchtime.

  8. Tracey 22 December 2007 at 6:07 pm #

    I dont understand – how can cornflakes have a GI of 125 when pure glucose is 100 ????

  9. judy benson 23 December 2007 at 8:21 pm #

    Does this apply to all cornflakes or just Kelloggs which have added sugar in them? Has anyone measured what a sugar free organic cornflake’s GI is?

  10. None Given 26 December 2007 at 10:44 pm #

    Oatmeal can triple my appetite for the rest of the day. I’ll be starving within a couple of hours. Eggs, protein shake. meat and/or cheese will last until lunchtime.

  11. jo knight 27 December 2007 at 12:15 am #

    For anyone who wants a ‘ready to eat’ boxed cereal – I can recommend Pertwood Organic Fruit and Seed Muesli – no added sugar or salt, wheatfree – contains oats,rye, barley flakes, sultanas, apricots, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Available in Sainsbury and Waitrose. I add some chopped fresh fruits in season and soya milk. Delicious and sustaining.

  12. Clare 28 December 2007 at 1:36 pm #

    I applaud the suggestions of muesli etc for a good start to the day, however as a recently diagnosed coeliac I find all of thes options no longer possible unless I can hunt down gluten free oats which are hard to come by and very expensive!
    Dried/fresh fruit and natural yogurt is my current staple..
    Any other suggestions?

  13. Jean 1 January 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    Even the best cereals – muesli or porridge – don’t stop me feeling hungry later on. And eggs, meat or cheese in the morning make me feel sick. But I find that the less I eat early on, the less I want at lunchtime. So I don’t eat breakfast, just some fruit mid-morning, and I function just as well as when I eat a full cooked breakfast (which I only ever do when I’m staying somewhere that makes me pay for it.)

  14. Jeanna 8 January 2008 at 12:09 am #

    I am dairy and oat sensitive so its eggs and fish for me…I wish eveyone would stop banging on about porridge though…I find I am ravenous an hour after eating it and spare a thought for the gluten intolerant!

    Rye bread from waitrose will keep you going for a week!!

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