Food & Nutrition

Want A Healthy Breakfast? Take The Icelandic Approach

Most of us don’t tend to focus on eating healthily when we’re on holiday. You’re more likely to take full advantage of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in a hotel or raid a local bakery for pastries than to sample the traditional morning fare of the country you’re in.

As such, you probably don’t know that Iceland boasts the healthiest breakfast in the world, according to dietitian Harriet Smith. Travel company Canvas Holidays asked Smith to pick the most and least healthy breakfasts from around the world, and you’ll find 12 of those breakfasts below, along with Smith’s comments explaining why they’re healthy or how you can make them healthier. And you’ll probably need to, because England, Scotland and Ireland have not done well out of this – though we do reckon Scots can feel hard done by that they’ve been assigned a fat-filled fry-up as their traditional breakfast, rather than a healthy bowl of porridge.

Before we get to that, however, here are five quick tips you can use to make your brekkie healthier.

  1. Have whole fruit instead of juice. It’s more filling and provides some all-important fibre.
  2. Grill instead of fry to lower the fat and calorie content.
  3. Replace a high-fat item with a veggie alternative. For example, instead of two sausages have one and some avocado, mushrooms or beans instead.
  4. Aim to increase your fibre intake – beans or wholemeal toast work well.
  5. More protein will help you feel fuller for longer. Go for scrambled or poached eggs, or a small pot of yogurt.

12 Breakfasts From Around The World

1. Iceland

Traditional: hafragrautur (oatmeal), Skyr yogurt, fruit, coffee, cod liver oil

“This breakfast is high in protein, fibre and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and low in fat and salt,” says Smith. “It provides around one-fifth of the daily recommended fibre intake and over one-third of a woman’s recommended daily protein intake. Protein is the most filling macronutrient, so this breakfast is likely to keep you full throughout the morning!”

2. Japan

Typical: rice, grilled fish, pickled vegetables, miso soup, egg, natto (fermented soybean)

“Although this breakfast is high in fat, it’s mainly from heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel,” says Smith. “This breakfast is very high in protein. It also includes pickled vegetables; these contain probiotics which may be beneficial for gut health.”

3. Spain

Traditional: Spanish-style toast with tomato (pan con tomate), coffee

“Although pan con tomate contains tomatoes, there isn’t enough to count as one of your five-a-day,” says Smith. “Adding an extra portion of fruit or veg will help you on your way to the daily target and will provide some additional fibre. The dish is low in protein, so adding a small pot of yogurt will double the protein content, keeping you full for longer, and will also provide some calcium for strong bones and teeth.”

4. France

Traditional: baguette, croissant, jam, butter, orange juice, coffee

“A typical French breakfast is high in fat and sugar,” says Smith. “Switching fruit juice for whole fruit is a great way to increase fibre intake and slow the release of sugars in the body. Getting rid of the butter lowers the calories and saturated fat content significantly.”

5. Germany

Traditional: German sausage, hard-boiled egg, Gouda cheese, rye bread, butter, coffee

“The Germans undoubtedly enjoy a hearty, protein-packed breakfast,” says Smith. “However, it’s not the healthiest, providing 70% of your daily saturated fat intake and nearly half of your daily salt intake. Remember that cheese is a high-salt, high-fat food, so try to stick to the recommended portion size of 30g.”

6. Italy

Typical: bread, butter, jam, caffè latte

“The Italians are not big on breakfast, with many choosing to start their day with just a coffee,” says Smith. “Those who do eat breakfast tend to prefer something quick and sweet. Choosing wholegrain bread and adding a piece of fruit increases the fibre content and helps you to meet one of your five-a-day. Switching a latte for a coffee with semi-skimmed milk reduces the fat content by almost half.”

7. Croatia

Traditional: polenta and cornbread topped with lard and paprika, coffee

“Lard is high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels,” says Smith. “Switching it for avocado will provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help to lower bad cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.”

8. Ireland

Traditional: two slices of back bacon, two sausages, baked beans, fried egg, mushroom, tomato, white pudding, hash potatoes, Irish soda bread, tea

“As with most traditional fry-ups, a full Irish is calorific, and high in fat and salt,” says Smith. “By grilling the sausages, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms, and poaching the egg, you’ll significantly reduce the fat and calorie content. Cutting down on processed meats such as bacon and sausage and increasing our intake of plant-based foods is the first step to achieving a more sustainable diet. Switching soda bread for brown boosts the fibre content too.”

9. England

Traditional: two sausages, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, fried bread, fried mushroom, fried tomato, black pudding, tea

“A typical full English breakfast is high in calories and fat, and lacking in fibre,” says Smith. “Grilling breakfast items, poaching eggs and eating one fewer sausage reduces the calories and can halve the fat content. Most people in England don’t eat enough fibre, so including baked beans and a slice of wholemeal bread is a great way to boost fibre content.”

10. USA

Typical: three pancakes, maple syrup, two fried eggs, three rashers of American bacon, hash browns, coffee, orange juice

“This provides more than half of a woman’s recommended daily calorie intake,” says Smith. “Switching the pancakes for wholemeal toast boosts the fibre content, whilst getting rid of the maple syrup reduces the sugars. Scrambled or poached eggs would be a lower-fat, lower-calorie alternative to eggs fried in oil. Even with the healthier tweaks, this breakfast provides half the recommended daily fat intake, so it’s more of a treat than a regular occurrence!”

11. Scotland

Traditional: lorne sausage, link sausage, streaky bacon, fried egg, fried tomato, fried mushroom, haggis, baked beans, toast, tea

“This traditional Scottish breakfast provides over half of a woman’s recommended daily calorie intake, three-quarters of your daily saturated fat intake, and half your daily salt intake,” says Smith. “The good news is that by making some simple swaps such as choosing lorne sausage or link sausage, grilling the bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms, and poaching your egg, you will consume fewer calories and reduce your fat intake by almost half. Switching white bread for wholemeal boosts the fibre content, while the tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans provide three of your five-a-day.”

12. Mexico

Typical: fried corn tortillas, green salsa, Mexican cheese, refried pinto beans (fried in lard), two fried eggs, pineapple juice, hot chocolate

“This dish provides your daily amount of fat and salt, so it isn’t one to be eaten regularly!” says Smith. “Having a plain tortilla wrap and switching the cheese for avocado reduces the saturated fat content and provides some heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Eating fresh pineapple means the sugar will be released more slowly in the body compared to juice, while switching a hot chocolate for coffee will lower the sugar, fat and calories substantially. Although this breakfast ranks in last place, it does contain beans, which are high in fibre and protein. Frying them in lard adds calories and fat, but if you just eat them in their plain form, they can be part of a balanced, healthy breakfast.”

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