Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Countless studies have shown that not eating a nutritionally balanced breakfast (or skipping it entirely) can lead to health problems such as stomach ulcers, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The thing is, although there are those out there who make an effort to eat healthily in the morning, most of us wouldn’t give much thought to the nosh that we consume as the first meal of the day – even if it’s oily, starchy hawker food – as long as it’s tasty and fills up the belly.
“Some of these local favourites are the worst foods you can eat, especially first thing in the morning,” says Jab Wan, nutrition advisor and managing director of Integrated Training Institute (www.itigrad.com). So, we put the hawker foods that we commonly eat for breakfast to the test, and this is our list of the worst five.
1. Fried Bee Hoon with Luncheon Meat and Egg
935 calories, 46g carbohydrate, 22g protein, 41g fat, 6.6g fibre, 1,351mg sodium
This is literally the worst breakfast to have – ever! Just a plate of it contains 935 calories – almost 40 per cent of the Health Promotion Board’s daily recommended intake of 2,400 calories.
The luncheon meat also raises eyebrows, as it’s processed with chemicals and contributes to the high fat content in the dish. “Having this for breakfast frequently will cause problems for your heart,” Wan says. “Also, the recommended daily sodium intake for adults is between 2,000mg and 2,400mg. That amounts to less than a teaspoon. This dish alone gives you over 1,000mg – nearly half your recommended daily allowance.”
Sodium, a common mineral found in processed food, is one of the main culprits for the development of hypertension or high blood pressure. Researchers from the University of Helsinki found that a one-third decrease in salt intake can result in a reduction of 10mmHg of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. “Reducing your blood pressure also means your heart works less, which reduces the risk of coronary heart disease,” Wan says.
2. Mee Siam
694 calories, 92g carbohydrate, 28g protein, 24g fat, 9.2g fibre, 2,659mg sodium
A bowl of mee siam packs more sodium than you should safely consume in a day. Furthermore, with 92g of carbs, it’s filling you up with an excess of energy that will only be stored as fat, unless you’re planning some serious gym work during your lunch break. Fortunately, rice vermicelli – the white noodle in mee siam – has a glycemic index of 58, which makes it a medium G.I. food (the lower the G.I., the longer it’ll keep you full).
“Avoid carb-laden meals for breakfast,” explains Wan. “What happens when you eat a dish like this is that your blood sugar levels will spike drastically and ‘crash’ soon after, leaving you feeling lethargic.” However, he adds that you can have a slightly heavier carb-laden meal only if you’ve had a really hard workout before breakfast. “It’ll help you replenish your glycogen stores,” says Wan.
3. Fried Carrot Cake with Egg and Dark Sweet Sauce
493 calories, 42g carbohydrate, 2g protein, 35g fat, 5.9g fibre, 1,289mg sodium
Consuming some carbs for breakfast is a good way to jump-start your body’s engine in the morning. But this dish has disproportionately more carbs than protein. Similar to what happens when you eat mee siam, your blood sugar levels will spike, then crash.
“It’s better to have more protein (in comparison to carbs) for breakfast because it’s digested much slower and leaves your energy sustained throughout the next two to three hours,” he explains. “It’ll also raise your resting metabolism, give your body the needed replenishment for muscle tissue, and helps it to grow.”
4. Roti Prata with Chicken Curry
461 calories, 42g carbohydrate, 23g protein, 23g fat, 5g fibre, 895mg sodium
Here’s the scoop on one of Singapore’s morning favourites: Not only is it high in carbs, the margarine that’s commonly used to fry it is loaded with hydrogenated or trans fats. “Adding hydrogen to vegetable oils changes its molecular structure and lengthens its shelf life; it’s only one molecule away from becoming plastic!” says Wan. “Eating margarine in the long term clogs your arteries and endangers your heart.”
5. Mee Rebus
571 calories, 82g carbohydrate, 23g protein, 17g fat, 8g fibre, 2,164mg sodium
Floating in the salty-sweet brown gravy of a bowl of mee rebus is a copious amount of salt. “A bowl of mee rebus is only 300mg shy of a teaspoon of salt! Sodium in excess also causes you to be bloated and retain water,” Wan says. The obvious solution is to ask for less gravy and eat as little of it as you can. Or have a banana after this meal. The fruit is abundant in potassium, a mineral that may neutralise the heart-damaging effects of salt, says nutritional epidemiologist Dr Elena Kuklina. Potassium-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables, have long been recommended as a dietary defence against heart disease and other chronic illnesses.