Lunch of the Week: Breakfast!

The building blocks for a busy day

By Amelia Yassin, Contributor

Every night, millions of Canadians hit the sack for a good night’s sleep. While asleep, our bodies recharge and rest, and we awake in the morning hungry and ready to take in our first nourishing meal of the day. Ironically, this is the meal where many of us reach for our most sugary food items of the day: specialty sweetened coffees, pastries, processed cereals, and more. In this instalment of Lunch of the Week, we are turning the spotlight on breakfast. How much added sugar is actually lurking in these popular, processed breakfast foods? How can we build a more substantial, nourishing breakfast each morning?

There is a lack of consensus for how much added sugar a person can have per day. “Added sugar” means refined sugar, added to the product by the manufacturer. It does not include naturally occurring sugars in fruits, some vegetables, and milk. The American Heart Association (AHA) has suggested a maximum of six teaspoons a day (24g) for women and nine teaspoons a day (36g) for men. Keeping these amounts in mind, let’s look at where the sugar is hiding in our favourite breakfast foods.

The refined white flour used to make baked pastry products and white bread—along with their added sugar—sends our blood sugar levels soaring. An apple fritter from Starbucks has 420 calories, with nearly seven teaspoons (27g) of sugar. Think a muffin is a better choice? The healthy-sounding “Zucchini Walnut Muffin” at Starbucks has a whopping 490 calories, with 28g of sugar.

Watch out for deceptively named “low-fat” pastry products. Oftentimes, manufacturers make up for flavour lost from removing fat by adding extra sugar. For example, the Starbucks “Reduced-Fat Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake” has 400 calories, with an incredible 12.5 teaspoons (50g) of sugar! Also, don’t be fooled by a baked product that features fruit—this may make the food appear more healthful, but it’s not necessarily a good choice. The healthier-looking “Reduced-Fat Very Berry Coffee Cake” still has 350 calories, with nearly eight teaspoons (31g) of added sugar.

How about our favourite specialty coffees? At Tim Hortons, a medium Chocolate Latte has nearly eight teaspoons (30g) of sugar. If we go by AHA standards, that one drink comprises our recommended sugar intake for the entire day. A small Iced Cappuccino may seem like a light and refreshing drink, but it packs more than eight teaspoons (33g) of sugar.

Not only do these processed breakfast foods load us up with unnecessary sugar, they are also nutritionally poor. The processing of foods typically robs them of nutrients and heart-healthy fibre. Modern processed foods are designed to be cheap, convenient, and profitable for the companies which sell them—none of these aims has anything to do with naturally supporting a healthy body. When you build a better breakfast using whole foods, you nourish yourself with the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and essential micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals) needed for a healthy, strong body.

Here’s a recipe for a quick, nutritious oatmeal to get you started. The next time you go to the grocery store, head to the bulk food section and load up on the yummy ingredients listed. Then you’ll have all you need in your cupboard to put together a nutrient-packed breakfast in just a few short minutes!

Quick Fruit and Cinnamon Oatmeal

1/3 cup rolled oats

4 dried apricots, chopped (or 2 tbsp raisins, cranberries)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp chopped walnuts (or almonds, sunflower seeds)

1/3 crisp apple, cut in cubes

Optional: 1 tsp brown sugar

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Combine the oats, cinnamon, nuts, apple, and apricots in a bowl. Pour on enough hot water to just cover the oats; don’t add too much or it will be watery. Cover the bowl with a plate or pot lid, and let the oatmeal stand until the oats have absorbed the water. Stir, adding a splash of milk (dairy or alternative) if you like, and enjoy! Serves one, and packs easily in a mason jar for those early classes.