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All about breakfast

Why eat breakfast?

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Breakfast is considered by many dieticians, naturopaths, doctors and personal trainers as the most important meal of the day. It breaks your overnight fast and sets your energy template for the day.

A low Glycemic Index (GI) breakfast like muesli or porridge gives sustained energy through the morning.

If you eat a high GI breakfast, the energy from the carbohydrates release quickly into your body. This gives you a brief burst of energy, but then your blood sugar level dips - as does your energy level.

If you make a bad breakfast decision, you pay 'energy catch-up' all day. Snacking on energy-dense but nutritionally devoid foods (e.g. biscuits, sugared coffee) merely makes you irritable by day's end.

But if you start the day with a good breakfast (i.e. eat like a king), you can use fruit and other good foods to top up your energy needs until lunch and then dinner.

The history of breakfast cereal

The origins of breakfast cereal (the original convenience food) stem from the Seventh Day Adventist meatless diet and an attempt to preserve water.

First rumblings

In the mid 19th Century, Reverend Sylvester Graham advocated the consumption of wholemeal flour as a health food. But the stodgy monotony of his restricted bread-and-biscuit diet had patients at the Our Home Hygienic Institute in Dansville, New York crying 'boring!'

So Graham experimented. He slowly baked a mix of flour and water into a brittle mass. Then he broke it roughly, baked it again, and ground it into smaller pieces.

In 1863, he declared that he'd created a perfect product: Granula! While it had a pleasant toasted flavour, you had to soak the rock-hard crumbs overnight (usually in milk) to avoid broken teeth.

In 1866, a group of Seventh Day Adventists set up a water-cure establishment called The Western Health Reform Institute at Battle Creek, Michigan. There they experienced the same boring breakfast as their New York brethren.

A new dawn

Meanwhile, John Harvey Kellogg (a young medical student and Seventh Day Adventist) was living in a New York boarding house. With no cooking facilities, and a vegetarian by religion, Kellogg saw the need for a pre-prepared breakfast cereal.

On graduating in 1875, the enterprising doctor returned home to Battle Creek, renamed its institute the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and began experimenting with his idea for a cereal.

Mixing wheat, oat and corn (maize) meal, Kellogg created a similar product to Granula. But new intellectual property laws made him change the name to Granola.

Granola was one of many products sold under the Kellogg's Sanitarium Health Food Company brand. While Kellogg busied himself with the sanitarium and the business, his wife Ella Ervilla developed new products.

Crunch time

The next big development in breakfast cereal came when indigestion-suffering lawyer Henry Drushel Perky created a new product: Shredded Wheat.

Perky registered his steaming process but was disheartened at sales. The Kellogs offered Perky $100,000 for his patents, but reneged at the eleventh hour. They lived to regret this move, as Perky perfected the process with valuable information they'd revealed in negotiations.

As Perky became hugely successful, jealousy spurred the Kelloggs to develop a rival process. They cooked whole wheat, let it stand for several hours, rolled each grain into a flake, then dried it. In 1895, their new Granose product became a huge success.

Later, Kellogg experimented with corn (maize) and created Corn Flakes. Developments to this day have been only modifications of the original process.

In the 1920s, Kellogg's brother's son, John L Kellogg, invented All Bran to use bran discarded in the production of Granose and Corn Flakes.

Muesli

Hailing from Switzerland, muesli is a breakfast dish of grains, fruit and nuts eaten with milk. Modern additions include yogurt, spices and fruit juice.

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Swiss doctor Max Bircher-Benner (born 1867) created this dish to feed patients in his natural health clinic.

Childhood health problems may have lead him to emphasise wholesome nutrition. He was utterly convinced of the healing properties of uncooked vegetarian food.

Back to the future

In 1904, Bircher-Benner founded the Lebendige Kraft (Living Force) Sanatorium in Z├╝rich. Here he put his nutritional research findings into practice and created Bircher muesli from oatmeal, raw apples, condensed milk, nuts and lemon juice.

With this food he obtained sensational healing successes in many of his patients.

Muesli appeared in Britain in 1926, but was relegated to the health food community and didn't become popular until the 1960s.

Today, muesli and Bircher muesli are eaten worldwide.