A recent publication highlighting a survey of eating trends in Europe, quoted some very disturbing statistics. According to the data survey, breakfast is “the most missed meal in Europe”. Europeans skip 18% of their breakfasts, and British consumers lose out on 30% of their morning meals.
Further analysis of the collected data showed that 21% of men don’t eat breakfast five or more times a week. At an average of 8%, women are less likely to miss breakfast.
Surge in snacking
While the statistics for breakfast seem to be decreasing all the time, the incidence of snacking is increasing exponentially. People living in Europe are starting to derive more and more food from snacks instead of meals. 67% of responders listed hunger as the most important reason for eating snacks. This indicates that these people are not getting sufficient food and nutrients from meals such as breakfast and are, therefore, getting hungry more often during the day and turning to snack foods to satisfy their needs. This combination of skipping meals and compensating by snacking, has been dubbed “flexi-eating”.
Surge in Eating out
While Europeans are skipping meals merrily, they are also increasingly eating main meals away from home in restaurants. Although the increase appears small, i.e. 2.9% of evening meals are eaten out, this represents a serious shift in eating habits on the continent, where main meals such as dinner were traditionally eaten at home.
The prime reasons listed for missing breakfast by both men and women were lack of time and slimming.
Eating out and snacking appear to be encouraged by our modern lifestyles. We don’t have the time to prepare food for our families and friends any more. It’s much easier, if one has the money, to invite friends to eat at a restaurant and let someone else do the preparing and cooking. We are also obsessed with instant gratification, so it is not surprising that people want to walk into a restaurant and have a plate of food appear like magic after 10 minutes, than to spend time purchasing, storing, preparing and cooking food which can take all day in the case of complicated dishes.
Snacking is a prime example of instant gratification. Unwrap an energy bar, pop a cold drink can and tear open a packet of crisps and you can satisfy your hunger in a flash.
These significant changes in traditional eating habits have a marked effect on nutritional intake and health. Let’s have a look at each one of the major trends and their consequences:
a) Skipping breakfast
Research has repeatedly shown that people who skip breakfast encounter the following problems:
- By not eating after the 12-14 hour fast following the evening meal, blood sugar levels remain low in the morning causing tiredness, lethargy, lack of concentration, irritability, poor performance in the workplace and an increased tendency to make mistakes or have accidents
- Scholastic performance in children and teenagers who don’t eat breakfast is much lower than in those that eat a proper balanced meal in the morning
- To make up for the lack of breakfast, people tend to overeat for the rest of the day either by snacking (see above) or eating much larger lunches and suppers
- Overeating causes weight gain which in turn contributes to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis and gout
- Breakfast contributes 30% or more of essential and protective nutrients to the daily intake. By skipping this important meal, it is difficult to make up the lack of nutrients such as iron, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin C
While there is some evidence that people who eat six or more small meals a day instead of three larger ones, have a better nutrient intake and don’t gain weight, this is only true if the six small meals consist of healthy snacks.
Healthy snacks include unprocessed grains and cereals (wholewheat bread, crackers, low-fat, high-fibre muffins), fresh or dried fruit, fresh vegetables, low-fat milk and yoghurt, small portions of nuts, and lean meat or fish and eggs.
Fat and salt laden snacks are disastrous for your figure and your health.
c) Eating out
Most people tend to either overeat or eat unhealthy food and overdo their alcohol intake when they eat out. Eating out is always viewed as a “treat”, so it is natural that people will indulge themselves by eating rich, fatty foods in large quantities. Such indulgence leads to weight gain, exacerbates gout and high blood pressure, and raises blood fat levels.
Try to be aware of how often you skip breakfast, eat snacks and eat out. Make a concerted effort to eat breakfast even if it means getting up earlier. Don’t just grab a cup of black coffee and gobble fatty snacks for the rest of the day. Make sure that children and teenagers eat breakfast.
Use the snacks listed above if you can’t avoid snacking and give your children healthy food in their lunch boxes to take to school.
When you eat out, select healthier options like grilled fish with lemon instead of rich sauce, baked potatoes without cream or butter, fresh salads (go easy on the dressing) and fresh fruit desserts without cream. Stick to one or two drinks and have a glass of fresh or mineral water for every alcoholic drink you take. You will not only be saving on kilojoules, but also feel a lot better the following day. - (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)
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