You’ve probably been advised that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While there have been studies suggesting that this is just a myth, there’s nothing wrong with eating a healthy, well-balanced breakfast. In fact, there are several health benefits of eating breakfast.
- Fueling your day at work or school
- Improved concentration and memory
- Lower levels of LDL Cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol)
- Reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease
- A reduced likeliness of being overweight
If we find time to eat a healthy breakfast despite our busy morning schedules, we can benefit from the above.
Something not many think about when it comes to breakfast, however, is whether it is best served hot or cold. There are health implications to eating hot and cold food first thing in the morning.
Negative health implications of a hot breakfast
A study conducted in Iran showed that there was a 90% increase in the risk of oesophageal cancer when one consumed a beverage warmer than 60ºC, and more than 700ml of tea per day (about 2 large cups), when compared to those who drank less tea and at cooler temperatures.
Another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that drinking tea at high temperatures, combined with excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, was associated with a 2 – 5 times increase in the development of oesophageal cancer.
Oesophageal cancer is thought to occur due to chronic inflammation of cells lining the oesophagus from repeated thermal injury.
This is further backed by another study conducted in a Northwest area in China that found that consuming tea, water, and even foods at a high temperature significantly increased the risk of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma by more than two-fold. Coupled with risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption, and the probability increases.
Bearing this in mind, do consider letting your favourite breakfast drinks, soups and food, cool down a little more before tucking into them.
Negative health implications of a cold breakfast
The main negative health implication of a cold breakfast is typically related to gut issues. Consuming cold food regularly might lead to a range of gut problems such as puffiness, cramps, and bloating. However, not everyone may experience these same effects should they choose to have their food or drinks cold, and more research is needed to understand the implications of temperature on our gut health.
A common gut issue faced by people who can’t tolerate cold food or drinks well is functional dyspepsia, also known as non-ulcer stomach pain or non-ulcer dyspepsia.
Functional dyspepsia’s symptoms include recurring signs and symptoms of indigestion, such as:
- Pain or burning in the stomach
- Excessive belching
- Feeling full too early without any apparent cause
If you have functional dyspepsia or think you do, aside from visiting a general practitioner (GP), you are advised against eating cold food. The digestive system breaks down hot or warm food more efficiently, and functions better with warm food.
In a small study of patients with epigastric pain, another common gut issue, ingestion of liquid at 8ºC demonstrated significant gastric contraction and reduced gastric sensory threshold as compared to 37ºC.
Epigastric pain is experienced in the middle of the upper abdomen, just below the ribcage. If experienced occasionally, epigastric pain isn’t usually concerning – it can even be caused by a stomachache from eating foods that aren’t fresh. That said, serious cases of epigastric pain can be life-threatening and should be looked at by a doctor.
So far, it may seem that both a hot and cold breakfasts are categorically bad. However, that isn’t the case. There are upsides to having your food hot and cold.
Benefits of eating a hot breakfast
Hot food aids in digestion. Chemicals are broken down in the food during the cooking process, thereby aiding in the absorption of nutrients during the digestion process. This is especially true with some foods, which get more nutritious with cooking – like tomatoes.
It’s also easier to digest hot food because it matches your body’s core temperature more closely, enabling less energy to be expended during digestion. With cold food, there is the added time needed for your body to heat the food up to match its core temperature before digestion takes place.
There’s also a lower risk of bacterial contamination when food is cooked at higher temperatures.
Benefits of eating a cold breakfast
Cold water, for instance, can be beneficial in the morning. If you’re someone who works out in the morning, drinking cold water during your workout can help reduce your body’s core temperature, and reduce the risk of heat-related injuries. In addition, drinking cold water can help you burn a few extra calories, since your body will have to work harder to maintain its core temperature, since cold water reduces it.
This concept rings true for other healthy breakfast foods eaten cold. Yoghurt with fresh fruits, cereal with cold milk, or a cold breakfast smoothie. When your body has to digest these foods, it’ll expend more calories during the digestion process.
So what does a healthy breakfast look like for you and your loved ones?
When eating a hot breakfast
Cool down your hot drinks to below 60ºC before consuming them. The same thing goes for hot foods – don’t consume them while piping hot. Essentially, consume food warm, not hot, and avoiding having foods at extreme temperatures.
Healthy and warm breakfast foods include:
- Eggs (Easy to prepare and can keep you full for longer)
- Oatmeal (Oats can lower blood cholesterol if consumed regularly. Avoid flavoured versions of oats as they may contain lots of sugar)
- Brown rice porridge
- Warm salad
- Warm green tea
- Warm coffee
- Breakfast burrito with healthy ingredients
When eating a cold breakfast
If you eat a cold breakfast, try to keep it healthy by choosing foods such as:
- Protein smoothies
- Yoghurt with fresh berries
- Cereal with cold, low-fat milk, oat milk, or almond milk
- Overnight oats
- Fresh, cut fruits (High in vitamins, minerals and fibre)
- Cold salad
- Cottage cheese (A great protein-rich ingredient to work into your cold meals. For instance, you can have them over cottage cheese.)
- Cold green tea
- Iced, black coffee
When eating a room-temperature breakfast
Room-temperature breakfasts work, too. Healthy foods include:
- Wholemeal bread or buns
- Nuts, seeds, and beans
- Homemade breakfast bars (Be cautious of store-bought bars. Although packaged as healthy, some of them are high in sugar)
- Sandwiches, pancakes and quiche
Have fun making yourself a healthy breakfast.
Remember to include a balance of healthy carbohydrates, fibre, and protein which will also let you feel full. With carbohydrates, include mainly wholegrains and be mindful of overconsumption, which can lead to obesity and an increased risk of developing metabolic diseases like diabetes. You can also include fruits and vegetables in your breakfast for their vitamins and minerals (added benefits include the lowering the risk of certain gastrointestinal cancers).
As long as you don’t overly consume hot or cold drinks or food for breakfast, and moderate the amount of tea and coffee you drink in a day, you’ll do just fine. Remember – keep food warm, not hot, and limit the amount of cold food you consume in a week for your gut health.
If you would like specialised advice on meals you should be consuming for your own health condition, consider speaking to one of our doctors and/or dietitians.
Article contributed by Dr Chew Chun Yang, family physician at Parkway Shenton, and reviewed by Alefia Vasanwala, dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
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