When I was a less seasoned traveller the meal I used to find most difficult was breakfast.
I remember feeling this particularly acutely in Turkey. This was twenty years ago now and Turkey was slightly less well trodden than it has become with the advent of low cost air travel.
We stayed in modest places. Breakfast was generally local in flavour – and savoury. So there was tomato and cucumber and boiled egg and sheep’s cheese. It’s actually a very nice way to start the day – very nice unless you’re feeling sleepy, a little off-balance, a long way from home and in need of the comfortingly familiar to set you up for the day.
In Britain some of the staples of a modern Western breakfast would be unrecognisable to our Elizabethan, Georgian or Victorian forebears. Processed breakfast cereals in particular are a fairly recent introduction; Kellogg’s was founded in the US in 1906 started exporting to the UK in the 1920s. Now its largest factory is in Manchester. It says a great deal about how the British breakfast has changed.
Of course there are still echoes of breakfasts past in the Great British fry-up; eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding, fried, grilled tomatoes and additions – these days chips and beans. Baked Beans are an anglicised American import having arrived via the imposing halls of Fortnum and Mason in the 1880s.
In Victorian times wealthier tables would have also featured brawn (meat in jelly), kidneys, oysters and salad vegetables. Poorer workers would have had bread, dripping, the occasional chop and perhaps small beer as a healthier alternative to drinking unfiltered, un-boiled water.
So our contemporary table with toast and cereal would look pretty anaemic to our grandparents and great grandparents.
Despite that we still take in a huge number of calories at breakfast, and for many people it’s in the form of simple carbohydrates; sugars. Two chocolate Weetabix (the two I weighed came in at 37g) clock up 130 kCal while 100ml of semi-skimmed milk adds another 50 kCal. If you’re trying to keep to 5-600 calories per day in line with the figures quoted for the 5:2 diet 180 on a small bowl of cereal that delivers energy in a form that’s burned off fast and leaves you feeling hungry mid-morning doesn’t strike me as a great idea.
The trouble with sugary foods is that they stimulate your production of insulin. If there’s an insulin spike then once it’s converted the sugary food you’re tipped into your body it ends up depleting your blood sugar, you feel hungry and light headed.
With the 5:2 diet I suspect, (though I should stress I’m speculating as a non dietician, you’d be better off avoiding any sort of sugar rush. For the same reason you’d struggle to justify eating toast and jam on a fasting day. Granary bread is about 235 kCal per 100g. Two slices of bread is a good 60 g, or 141 kCal. Add margarine and jam and that’s going to be at least 220 kCal for just two smallish slices of toast.
In short the sort of sugary, processed, low grade carbohydrate gak modern Brits guzzle for breakfast seems to be a part of the growing problem we have with obesity and other diet-related health issues.
So, you ask, what are the alternatives? Dr Michael Mosley, the journalist behind the Horizon programme on fasting, likes a good breakfast in the shape of eggs and ham. Eggs are around 70 kCal each (poached or boiled rather than fried), a slice of ham is another 46 (total 186 kCal). Personally I’d add 180g of cooked spinach to that at just an extra 41 kCal, lots of fibre, vitamins and bulk and perhaps use a coupple of bantam eggs to keep the total under 200g. That would be a terrific start to the day.
Or how about porridge? Oatmeal and porridge oats are, in their raw form, gramme for gramme, ounce for ounce, more calorific than bread – but that’s because bread has a lot of water in it. Twenty five grammes of porridge oats contain about 90 calories, 30 contains 108 calories. However, if you make the oats up with water, your porridge gains bulk without gaining more calories. It’s like that other great friend of dieters; soup. The body treats soups as solids rather than liquids for the purposes of feeling full – so porridge works well. Thirty grammes of porridge oats make a decent bowl full. Add a good spoon of low fat yoghurt and that’s another 15-20 kCal.
Fruit, on the other hand, is generally very low in calories. A hundred grammes of blueberries are about 55-60 kCal. So 25 grammes of porridge oats made up to 100g with water and a spoon of yoghurt stirred in at the end with a further 100g of blueberries comes to about 160 calories. That’s 200g total and far more filling than two pieces of toast at a third of that, plus the calories will burn more slowly.
Alternatively you could combine 100g of low fat yogurt (80 kCal) and 100g of blueberries (56 kCal) for an even more economical start too the day in calorific terms.
Personally, on fasting days, if I get to 10 or 11 O’clock and I’m OK without having had breakfast I tend to hang on and have an early lunch and spread my 600 kCal between two pretty hearty meals.