Breakfast—the first meal of the day—is also often called the most important one, and for good measure. It starts your metabolism, improves your concentration and stabilises your energy levels, while also providing essential nutrients to your body. But what constitutes a healthy breakfast? Does the question also lie in the type—Indian vis-à-vis western?
A typical Indian breakfast consists of parathas in places like Punjab, doi-chire-kola-mishti or luchi-torkari in West Bengal, kanda-poha in Maharashtra, and idli, dosa and vada in the southern states, which have all the essential nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, iron, and fibre to start a healthy day. Now, compare this to the western options like bread, jam, donuts, and croissants, with a few exceptions like corn flakes, oats, cereals, and eggs, and this leads to the question—is a traditional Indian breakfast healthier?
According to Bhakti Samanth, chief dietitian, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai, a western breakfast might consist of cereals and milk or egg toast and is convenient to prepare but isn’t a wise choice due to the increased processing and hidden sugar sources, which not only add empty calories but also increase the risk of several metabolic diseases. However, there can also be healthy options like overnight oats without added flavours or baked beans with a vegetable omelette.
Indian breakfast options, on the other hand, like poha, upma, idli, dosa, and parathas are all less processed but lack enough protein and fibre. “Hence, modifying it to make a balanced recipe by adding sprouts or crumbled low-fat paneer to upma/ poha or adding more veggies to idli-dosa along with generous amounts of sambar or just simply adding a bowl of curd with your vegetable-stuffed paratha could help make it a perfect and healthy kick start to your day ahead,” she adds.
So, calories from both Indian vs western options are similar but there are fewer carbohydrates and more protein with less fat in the Indian breakfast than the western option. “As we talk of the ingredients, the western option is made with processed ingredients, added sugar, added flavours and preservatives while the Indian option is fermented and less processed hence there will be more probiotics and less harmful ingredients with the added benefit of herbs and spices that Indian cuisine provides,” adds Samanth.
What is an ideal breakfast? According to experts, it should include a good source of protein like eggs or sprouts and add colour to the breakfast by adding fruits, carbohydrates to refill the energy stores like oats or ragi, and healthy fats like butter and ghee and, the most important one, a glass of lemon water as soon as you wake up, suggests functional nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan.
“Mornings have become hectic for almost everyone. Breakfast has evolved to include a boatload of processed foods like cereals and toast. Traditionally, we used to eat breakfast like a king, but now we merely consume tea and coffee, which actually have more ill effects on our gut,” says Pradhan, who is also the CEO and founder of iThrive that offers services like personalised online consulting for treating and reversing lifestyle conditions.
This also means a healthy start to the day with breakfast can take care of cravings till lunch. That’s because insufficient breakfast (either in quantity or quality) sends a distress signal to the brain that triggers cravings. In her book The Immunity Diet, Kavita Devgan suggests, “A substantial protein-rich lunch will take care of cravings for the second half. Sometimes cravings scream of a nutritional deficiency. So, focus on eating a nutrient-loaded wholesome diet.”
Devgan points out to the common thinking that protein is important only for bodybuilders or for people who exercise a lot, whereas the fact is that many tend to be deficient in this macronutrient. “When I do a food audit, I am told that the staple fare for a vegetarian (often even non-vegetarian) person is tomato sandwich or poha for breakfast, dal and chawal for lunch, and roti and two vegetables for dinner. Eat some fibre in the morning during breakfast as that helps avoid the hunger pangs in the afternoon. However, make sure you drink enough fluids throughout the day to ensure that fibre works efficiently in the body,” she says.
Protein is an important macronutrient that a high percentage of Indians are deficient in. Nutritionist Priyanka Marakini suggests a good source of gut-friendly protein like tempeh. “It is a great food option for diabetics and high in bioavailable protein especially for vegetarians. So, one can eat dosa for breakfast and replace 50-60% potato with tempeh. Have cutlets or stuffed parathas with tempeh.”
A plethora of ready-to-eat (RTE) meal options, best known as comfort food, have taken the healthy food space. Blame today’s fast-paced life that has led to changes in food consumption habits with consumers seeking convenient consumption formats for breakfast that integrate well with their lifestyles or growing awareness among consumers on health and nutrition, consumers today look for products that are wholesome as well as tasty.
With most family members working or couples looking for easy and light dinners, the RTE options are an instant hit to satisfy cravings for Indian meals, pasta, or noodles. Are these high in nutritional value as compared to traditional breakfast options?
Typically, ancient grains are back in action. Millets are high in nutritive value, dietary fibre, have complex carbohydrates and enable the slow release of sugar, thereby keeping you full for longer. A good fit for a gluten-free diet and help strengthen gut health; products based on millets offer wholesome, tasty options. Likewise, eggs served for breakfast in any form—poached, boiled, omelette or scrambled, are one of the most wholesome, nutritious, healthy, and inexpensive foods, rich in vitamin D, Vitamin B, zinc, and calcium.
“Millets are ancient grains that have been used in traditional Indian kitchens for a long time. The key is to give it to consumers in a form they can easily integrate into their lifestyles,” says Prashant Parameswaran, MD and CEO of Tata Consumer Soulfull which launched the Tata Soufull Masala Oats range in wholegrain oats, millets such as navane and jowar, desi masala and vegetables. A muesli option, Millet Muesli, has 25% millets such as ragi, bajra and jowar that strengthen health propositions and are better in taste.
Similarly, Eggoz Nutrition, an egg-focused consumer brand, has a ‘farm to plate in 24 hours’ model to deliver fresh eggs. “Eggs come from hens that are given 100% herbal feed resulting in better quality eggs followed by 11 safety and quality checks,” says Abhishek Negi, co-founder, Eggoz Nutrition.
Pistachios are high in protein in the plant-based protein category, making a complete breakfast cereal or snack meal. A recent study at Cornell University says pistachios have a higher antioxidant capacity than that of popular antioxidants—containing foods such as blueberries, pomegranate, cherries and beets. The unique compounds in pistachios including vitamin E, carotenoids, phenolics and flavonoids, contribute to the high antioxidant activity of pistachios. Two of the antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, linked to a decrease in the risk of developing macular degeneration are found in pistachios and not found in any other nuts.
Sumit Saran, India representative, American Pistachio Growers, says, “The protein quality of pistachios was assessed for the first time at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2019. The study determined that pistachios contain all nine essential amino acids necessary for supporting growth and maintaining health for those 5 years and older, therefore they are a ‘complete’ protein. US-grown roasted pistachios meet the generally accepted definition as a ‘complete protein’, meaning they join the ranks of a small number of plant proteins such as quinoa, chickpeas, and soybeans that have become popular among vegetarians and consumers who wish to move away from animal protein. Nuts contain protein but now roasted pistachios with all nine amino acids in adequate amounts are a ‘complete protein.’”
Adequate protein for sustained energy, muscle strength and overall health can be added to tempeh: vegetarian, versatile and clean protein ingredient made by fermenting non-GMO soybeans. It is packed with protein, fibre, and good fats, giving vegetarians, fitness enthusiasts and conscious foodies a delicious, nutritious, and healthy, plant-based, protein-rich food.
Siddharth Ramasubramanian, founder and CEO of Hello Tempayy, says, “The Indian Dietetic Association (IDA) in 2018 indicated that at least 84% of Indians are protein deficient. This is a direct outcome of insufficient protein sources on the Indian plate. Breakfast is no exception. Tempayy is a protein powerhouse offering all the nine essential amino acids and is considered the healthiest way to consume soybeans.” Tempayy can be used to whip up a bhurji, a breakfast sandwich or masala in a dosa.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration has this year introduced ‘healthy’ label criteria. A ‘healthy’ product has to align with the FDA’s updated nutrition facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to its announcement.
For a healthy stamp from the FDA, cereals have to contain three-fourth ounces of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars.
Here’s a list of cereals that do not qualify as ‘healthy’ based on US FDA’s new definition:
- Raisin Bran (9g of added sugars)
- Honey Nut Cheerios (12g of added sugars)
- Corn Flakes (300mg of sodium; 4g of added sugars)
- Honey Bunches of Oats, Honey Roasted (8g of added sugars)
- Frosted Mini Wheats (12g of added sugars)
- Life (8g of added sugars)
- Special K (270mg of sodium; 4g of added sugars)