Eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a pauper.
This age-old saying is essentially telling us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
|Look out for healthier breakfast options
|Scout around for food outlets which serve healthy food near your home and workplace, said Miss Amy Vong, dietitian at the Singapore General Hospital.
If you don't have time to prepare breakfast at home, there is a wide range of stalls which serve healthy breakfasts.
A steamed vegetable bun, preferably wholemeal, would be a better option than a croissant, for instance. Save that treat for special days.
You can make your breakfast more healthy by requesting less curry or gravy, asking for less sugar in drinks and sweet foods, and going without fried items, like skipping the youtiao (deep fried fritter) with your porridge, said nutritionist BenjaminLee.
Also, look out for stalls that use healthier ingredients, for example, oil with a lower saturated fat content.
These stalls can be identified from the Healthier Choice pyramid symbol on their hygiene certificate.
However, do note that these foods still contain relatively high amounts of calories and should be eaten in moderation.
Try to restrict these to no more than twice a week, said Mr Lee.
However, with our busy work schedules, we hardly have the luxury of a good morning meal. Breakfast tends to be rushed, if not skipped.
'Breakfast helps keep the brain functioning properly,' said nutritionist Benjamin Lee of the Health Promotion Board.
When we wake up in the morning, the amount of glucose - the main source of the brain's fuel - in the body is usually low as the liver stores only enough glucose to last about 10 hours after a meal.
Several studies have found that skipping breakfast interferes with the learning and problem-solving ability of children and teenagers. It also diminishes mental performance of adults, said Mr Lee.
Having a morning meal also jumpstarts metabolism, leading to the more effective breakdown of food during the day.
Moreover, those who skip breakfast are more likely to experience extreme hunger later. They tend to go for high-fat or high-sugar food or end up overeating, leading to weight gain.
When we can afford the time to sit down for a morning meal, however, the Singaporean diet tends to favour oily, high-fat or high-sugar breakfast foods.
Assuming your daily diet is made up of three main meals with two snacks in between, it is recommended that about 15per cent of your daily intake should come from breakfast, which makes up about 300 kilocalories (kcal), with no more than 10g of fat, said Mr Lee.
'There are no bad foods, only bad eating habits,' said Miss Amy Vong, dietitian at the Singapore General Hospital.
Eating in moderation is key to a balanced diet, she said.
Mr Lee, Miss Vong and dietitian Nehal Kamdar of Raffles Hospital examine some family favourites at the breakfast table of Singapore's various communities and offer healthier, more nutritious breakfast alternatives for a well-balanced diet below.
|Throwing in a youtiao (deep fried dough fritter) with the porridge will add an extra 384 kcal and 17g of fat, warned dietitian Amy Vong. But you can add some boiled or steamed fish to your porridge.
A bowl of beehoon soup, steamed yam cake or chee cheong fun with sauce are other healthy options.
There is not much fibre in the Chinese diet, said Miss Vong. Try to add some vegetables if you can to the morning meal.
Porridge might be boring, but remember: Even that single stick of fried youtiao, so wonderful when dunked in a mug of hot kopitiam coffee, amounts to almost 400 kcal.
|Eating nasi lemak once a week is acceptable, said Miss Amy Vong. BUt instead of having rice cooked in coconut, you should opt for plain rice. This will reduce the fat content drastically, she said.
That might not sound very exciting if you are a fan of the dish. It's the santa-flavoured rice and the sambal that make it such a popular Singapore breakfast favourite. But then the plain rice option cuts down on the calories.
Chilli also adds on more oil and salt to the dish.
If you don't take too much of the gravy, mee siam is actually a healthier choice as bee hoon does not contain too many calories, said Miss Vong.
|Adding a small dish of curry with your roti prata adds on an extra 100 to 200 kcal per serving. Dhal is a healthier choice, as it has a higher fibre and lower fat content.
Plain thosai is also a much better chocie than prata, said dietitian Nehal Kamdar. It has only 161 kcal and 5.8g of fat per serving. So is iddly with dhal.
But go easy on those delicious coconut-based chutneys that are usually served with it. And limit those prata breakfasts - easily one of Singapore's favourites - if you are watching your waistline.
|Substitute the fried items in the English fry-up: For example, try poached eggs, turkey ham or boiled ham, and toast. And don't fry the bread.
Another unhealthy breakfast food is the harmless-looking airy croissant. It is high in fat and contains about 400 kcal and 23.6g of ft. Opt for a bran muffin isntead, for its higher fibre content.
High-sugar cereals are also not a healthy breakfast choice. It would be wiser to choose cereals that are high in fibre and low in sugar instead. Oatmeal, which is low in cholesterol, is the best bet.
So save those bacon and egg or croissant breakfasts for lazy Sunday mornings. Or when you are on holiday and your hotel offers a big buffet breakfast.
This article is first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Mar 19, 2008.