Bringing Back Breakfast

December 20, 2006

21 Min Read
Bringing Back Breakfast

Photo: American Egg Board

In A. A. Milne’s children’s classic The House at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh says that each morning he asks, “What’s for breakfast?” Piglet remarks that, at the start of each day, he says, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” Pooh nods thoughtfully, saying, “It’s the same thing.”

While everyone might not agree with Pooh, from a nutritional and product-development standpoint, he’s absolutely right.

A healthy wake-up call

Conscientious adults know we should kick-start our days with a healthy meal: Eating breakfast refuels our bodies after the sleeping, fasting state. “Your blood glycogen stores are depleted,” explains Greg Miller, Ph.D., nutrition expert, executive vice president science and innovation, Dairy Management, Inc./National Dairy Council, Rosemont, IL. A good breakfast restores calories and rebuilds glycogen stores.

This can be important to weight management. Newer data has emerged around protein intake and the importance of protein “in terms of regulating response to insulin, regulating blood lipids and weight and satiety,” says Miller. “There are researchers now advocating that we get adequate amounts of protein in our breakfast meal as a way to curb our appetite and to ensure that we’re responding well to our insulin. Having adequate protein becomes important so that you regulate your insulin well and get a good start to your day.”

In adult research, overweight women ate fewer calories the rest of the day when they had a more satisfying breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit spread than women who had a less satisfying breakfast of a bagel, cream cheese and yogurt, points out Joanne Ivy, senior vice president, American Egg Board, Park Ridge, IL.

What’s more, not eating breakfast can result in unhealthy snacking as the day progresses. A study by researchers from Michigan State University and published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2005, 105:1373-1382) found that woman who ate breakfast were more likely to have a normal BMI (below 25) than non-breakfast eaters.

Further, according to Ivy, “studies over the last 40 years have confirmed again and again that children who eat a balanced breakfast score significantly higher on tests, and are less depressed, anxious and hyperactive than children who eat an unbalanced breakfast or skip the meal. In addition to having better attitudes towards school and better attendance records, students who eat a balanced morning meal also have improved strength and endurance and are not as susceptible to gnawing hunger pains in the late morning.”

“We have all been badgered by our mothers ad nauseum about how ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’,” says Chris Warsow, research chef, new business development, Kerry Specialty Ingredients, Beloit, WI. “However, breakfast was never a convenient meal to eat. Traditional breakfast foods required you to sit down to eat them—like cereal and bacon and eggs.” For most of us, a breakfast enjoyed leisurely at the table is a weekend luxury. But that can be changed.

Eggs-act nutrition

Nutrient-rich eggs are among the most versatile breakfast ingredients, lending themselves to a variety of additions, like avocado, that can position them as appealing gourmet or ethnic-style selections.Photo: California Avocado Commission

For many, a traditional breakfast means eggs at the center of the plate. High protein breakfasts with eggs and meat started many a farmer, lumberjack or laborer’s day, because it provided long-lasting energy. Yet eggs can also provide fuel for the more sedentary information-age worker.

“Crack open an egg and you find a wealth of nutrients,” says Ivy. “Because eggs contain a wide variety of nutrients compared to their calorie count (75 per 50 gram large egg ), they’re called nutrient dense. Eating nutrient-dense foods helps us satisfy our nutrient needs without excess calories. The nutrient density of eggs is especially important for older adults and anyone who is overweight, two groups which currently make up a large proportion of the population.”

Beyond protein, eggs are also a good source of riboflavin, folate, iron, and vitamins A, B12, D and E. Plus, “Scientists have only just begun to learn about the importance of some egg nutrients, such as choline, lutein and zeaxanthin,” Ivy says.

Research shows the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. “Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the eye lens and macular region of the retina,” Ivy explains. “Scientists believe these carotenoids may protect the eye from damage due to oxidation. One study also suggests that lutein may help reduce the risk of heart disease.” Some foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, but “because egg yolks contain fat, research indicates that the human body may absorb the lutein and zeaxanthin from egg yolks more easily than it absorbs the lutein and zeaxanthin from other sources,” she notes.

In addition to serving as a main ingredient in food, eggs can also supply functional properties. “Eggs can simplify a package food’s ingredient statement by replacing many fillers and other additives, while simultaneously contributing to the nutritional data that is so important to consumers,” says Ivy. “As interest in meatless diets continues to climb, food product formulators include eggs not only for their high-quality protein, but also as a binder in foods such as breakfast bars.”

In today’s grab-and-go lifestyle, frying, scrambling or boiling an egg before work seems daunting. Yet eggs can play a major role in food products designed for current lifestyles. Ivy suggests ready-to-cook quiche, heat-and-eat burritos or sandwiches as foods that may fit the demands of today’s consumers.

“Latino culture has influenced many facets of American culture, breakfast being no exception,” says Warsow. “Chorizo and eggs is fairly common even in the northern parts of the country. Chiles and chile sauces have been combined with egg dishes for a while now. Instead of just straight Tabasco®, it could be a mango habanero salsa.”

Vikki Nicholson, business director cheese and dairy, Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, TN, sees portability and convenience as a huge market driver. Meat, cheese and eggs fit into handheld foods in the form of breakfast quesadillas, wraps and sandwiches. “Many people start the day with what they are familiar with,” she says.

Cheese concepts

Cheese is one of breakfast’s best friends, according to Marilyn Wilkinson, director, national product communications, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison, WI. “It’s highly complimentary to favorite morning foods—eggs, fruits and breads of all types, from bagels to whole wheat scones,” she says.

Cheese helps upscale the breakfast concept, Nicholson believes. “It elevates, but also adds comfort,” she says. It’s an ingredient that blends well with traditional meals like omelets, or potato- and-cheese combinations. “For breakfast concept mainstays, processed American and cheddar are most often used,” she says.

There’s also a trend toward more adventurous eating, including rich and creamy cheeses like goat cheese. Jalapeño Cheddar, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses also add interest. “I see them used with artisan breads like a brioche or egg-enriched bread,” Nicholson says. “Cheese goes with just about anything, including bagels, pastries and breads.”

In general, Americans are embracing bolder and less-familiar cheeses, says Wilkinson. “While Cheddar, Swiss and other classics have long been breakfast basics,” she says, “menus are expanding to include more ethnic varieties (feta and queso blanco, for example) and stronger flavored varieties (brie and gruyere, for example). More lavish and indulgent breakfast dishes also are popping up on hotel and upscale menus. Truffled omelets with Asiago and Parmesan, for example, or mascarpone-stuffed French toast.

“Operators are spicing up breakfast sandwiches with flavored cheeses such as salsa jack or a dilled havarti,” continues Wilkinson. “Smoked cheeses are very compatible with sandwich ingredients as well. Breakfast wraps are an excellent opportunity for ethnic cheese blends. Hispanic and Italian-style cheese blends add delicious flavor and often complement other ingredients.”

Breakfast menu items are reflecting the ethnic trend and many can be adapted to processed foods. “Popular items include breakfast tacos and burritos, as well as omelets and scramblers with ethnic ingredients such as chiles and salsa, or spinach and Mediterranean olives,” says Wilkinson. “Cheese plays an essential role— Hispanic-, Italian-, Mediterranean/ Greek-style cheeses. Omelets with Hispanic- or Greek-style ingredients and cheeses are popular choices.” Feta and Kasseri are Greek-inspired cheeses.

Warsow is partial to firm cheeses in his own omelets. “Milder, young cheeses often work well in the morning,” he says. “I do enjoy a nice, stinky piece of gruyere, but not first thing in the morning.” He notes that meltability is a must, because “melting the cheese mellows the flavor and lets it more easily meld with whatever other flavors are present.”

In breakfast sandwiches, cheese not only adds great flavor but, according to Wilkinson, is practical in that its excellent melting properties helps hold sandwich ingredients together. For the food developer, the key items to consider in choosing a cheese are flavor and functionality. “What is the melt restriction?” asks Nicholson. “What flow is desired? What performance? What is the final format? How will it be held and for what hold time? Will it be frozen or refrigerated during its life cycle? Will moisture migration be a problem? What are the manufacturing processes? Is it a pumpable cheese to be mixed with vegetables or meat, or is it a separate ingredient?”

Dairy possibilities

For most people, breakfast cereal brings to mind a splash of milk. But, while milk-topped cereal is an ideal way to incorporate dairy food into the morning meal, Miller sees yogurt as an important breakfast food. “The yogurt category is one of the fastest-growing categories, because yogurt delivers what consumers want: great taste, convenience and good nutrition,” he says. “They’re putting it in single-serve containers that are grab-and-go, so you can take it on the run.

If you’re running out the door, but you want something that’s healthy, a good source of protein and other nutrients, yogurt works. They’re putting it in tubes now so that if your kids are running out the door to catch the bus, you can hand it off to them. They don’t even need a spoon.” Plus, yogurt provides multiple choices of flavors for kids as well as adults.

Dairy should be an important component of breakfast for the whole family, because of its nutritional package, notably calcium and other bone-builders. In fact, “Kids who skip breakfast tend to have lower calcium intakes over the day,” says Miller. “We want to be careful to make sure they get adequate calcium to build bone mass.”

Calcium intake is important for adults as well. “Bone is one of those tissues that’s constantly rebuilding itself and breaking itself down,” Miller explains. “Early in life we build bone faster than we break it down. When we reach middle age we’re kind of in equilibrium. We build it as fast as we break it down. When we hit older age we tend to break it down faster than we build it. It’s very critical to make sure the building blocks are there to build strong bone. It’s not just about calcium. It’s about protein and phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and vitamin A, which are some of those other nutrients that we need to build strong bones.”

According to Miller, a lot of emerging research shows that kids who are better dairy consumers have lower body fat. “They’re building better bodies when they are getting dairy in their diet,” he says. “In adults, it’s more an issue related to body fat and weight loss. Adults who are better dairy consumers have usually less body fat.” People on a calorie-restricted diet who consume three servings of dairy per day lose more weight and lose more body fat compared to those who consume one or fewer servings per day. “Getting adequate amounts of dairy in your diet, from a weight perspective, is really important. If you’re going on a weight-loss program, cutting dairy is probably one of the worst things you can do,” he says.

The dairy category is showing innovation in many areas: Miller suggests grab-and-go yogurt smoothies as one innovation. Meal replacements, made with dairy and fortified with other nutrients, is another area of growth. “They’re doing more with cheese in terms of grab-and-go cheese, such as string cheeses that are real convenient,” he says. Getting dairy at breakfast is convenient, affordable and enhances the nutritional quality of your diet, he emphasizes.

Grains galore

Whole grains may be the current good-health buzz words, but they have old-fashioned appeal; look, for example, how long items like Irish-cut oatmeal, cream of wheat, bran flakes or rye toast have graced the breakfast table.

For many years, refined grains, with the nutritious bran and germ stripped away, seemed to captivate the American palate in the form of white bread, donuts and processed cereals. Yet the pendulum of the American breakfast is swinging toward more hearty offerings, as consumers recognize the healthy properties of whole grain. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends the adult diet include three or more servings of whole grains each day.

Because consumers often find it difficult to identify products containing whole grains, the Whole Grains Council, Boston, has developed the Whole Grain Stamp. Each product bearing a stamp guarantees at least half a serving (8 grams) of whole grains. Introduced in early 2005, the stamp has been widely used on breads and cereals. Recently, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service approved use of the stamp on labels of products containing meat and poultry, so breakfast foods like pocket sandwiches and burritos can also carry the Whole Grain Stamp.

This is important because the Dietary Guidelines say to eat at least three “ounce equivalents” of whole grains each day, says Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Oldways/ Whole Grains Council. “The term ‘ounce equivalent’ is very confusing to consumers,” she says. “But even if the consumers look past that to the suggestions to eat a slice of bread or a cup of ready-to-eat (RTE) cereal, they can only measure their progress toward their necessary three servings if the foods in question are 100% whole grain. Most Americans just getting accustomed to whole grains pass through a transition period of first enjoying foods made with a mix of whole and refined grains. Although the Dietary Guidelines scientific advisory committee endorsed such ‘mixed foods,’ the guidelines don’t give us any way to measure their contribution to our whole grain needs. The stamp fills that gap.”

It’s unlikely that Americans will reach their recommended three servings or more of whole grains daily unless they think about including whole grains in every meal. “Now, both everyday breakfasts and special occasions, like Sunday breakfast or brunch for guests, can include great wholegrain choices,” says Harriman. “Whole grains have gone beyond cereals and bread at breakfast. We’re now seeing a wide range of choices, including frozen waffles in great flavors, such as fig and flax, banana, pomegranate, blueberry, apple cinnamon, or buckwheat. We’re also seeing whole-grain pancake mixes, scone and muffin mixes, and English muffins. Of course the range of cereals and breads has also expanded tremendously. Hot cereals now include choices like kamut farina, brown rice farina, cracked-wheat cereal or 4-grain plus flax.”

Whole wheat still reigns as king of whole-grain consumption. According to USDA, the most popular whole grains in the United States (in order of consumption) are wheat (73.5%), corn (12.3%), rice (11%), oats (2.6%), barley (0.4%) and rye (0.3%). According to Harriman, barley is the highest-fiber grain, with fiber throughout the endosperm as well as the bran layer. “It bakes up well,” she says.

The development of whole-grain, white-wheat flour by companies such as ConAgra Food Ingredients, Omaha, NE, and ADM, Decatur, IL, is bringing whole-grain nutrition to consumers with white-bread tastes. Special milling of particular wheat varieties maintains the bran and germ, without the traditional coarse texture. This lends itself well to whole-wheat breads, muffins, tortillas, pancakes and waffles. Whole-grain-flour formulations require gluten supplementation and up to 5% more water, because absorption is higher. Most often, the whole-grain, white-wheat flour is used as a percentage of the flour, as opposed to 100% usage.

Waffles are a grain-based product that appeals to Warsow. “There are many new and wonderful concepts every year; however, few actually stick,” he says. “Waffles are one exception. Who doesn’t like waffles? Especially when they have two different flavors built into each one: chocolate chips embedded, or a dunking sauce along for the ride. The latest trend is to take the tried and true and put a new twist on it. I am still looking for microwavable pigs in a blanket (pancakes wrapped around a smoky link).”

Hot cereal heats up

Bill Bonner, director R&D/technical services, ConAgra Food Ingredients, says RTE cereal consumption is down 1% to 2% over the last five years. Hot cereals are up 2% to 3% over the last four years, returning to previous levels of consumption. Cereal bars are up 8% to 12%. He sees consumer trends as a reflection that the whole-grain delivery message is reinforced through the appearance and texture of these products. “People realize that hot cereals, oatmeal mainly, are whole grain,” he says.

Oatmeal is available in various physical forms. The whole-oat groat may be steel cut. “You get two to four steel-cut pieces out of a whole kernel of oat,” says Bonner. “The consumer product, Irish oatmeal, consists of steel-cut oats. You can flake the whole kernel, and that’s basically whole rolled oats. There are different thicknesses, depending on the water absorption and the cook time desired. If you think of it in terms of product density, increased cook time is directly related to increased density.”

The thinner the flake, the faster it cooks. “Typical instant oatmeal is between 0.015 and 0.020 inches in thickness,” Bonner explains. “Some instant hot cereal processors may introduce heat to partially gelatinize the starch in instant oatmeal.” Instant hot cereals absorb water the fastest and are perceived to “cook” in the shortest period of time.

All grain flakes are fragile when it comes to materials handling. “Strict attention to technology to address that product does not break up is required,” Bonner says. “You need to pay attention to the entire flaking and materials handling process to be sure that you have flake integrity. You cannot treat flakes like you would flour. Products that tend to break up, like oat flakes, barley flakes or wheat flakes, can’t be air conveyed without affecting the particle integrity.” This can create undesirable fine material and, thus, not retain the physical format desired.

Oats, barley and wheat are all available in whole kernel format, Bonner says. “The rawest form would be in the hot cereal form, but they most likely will be cooked. One place you see something in raw form are in the European muesli products. I’ve seen flaked wheat, flaked oats and flaked barley,” he says. “You could put in some of the more exotic grains, as well as sesame, nuts and seeds, when you don’t plan to process them at all. These ingredients are included for all three of the sensory attributes desired—appearance, taste and texture.”

Barley is most often used in multigrain hot cereals. “A lot of hot cereals, beyond oatmeal and Cream of Wheat or farina-type, wheat-based products, are going to be multigrain products,” Bonner says. Con Agra Mills’ Sustagrain barley has 30% total dietary fiber and 12% soluble fiber, compared to generic barley, which has 10% total dietary fiber and 4% to 5% soluble fiber. Oats and barley, because of their high soluble-fiber content, support a heart-health claim when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Combining barley and oats may be the basis of a particularly heart-healthy breakfast.

Breakfast in a box

The basic technologies in creating breakfast cereals are shredding, flaking, gun puffing, clustering and direct-expansion extrusion. Shredded whole wheat is the most common shredded product. “You can include other grains in the product to be shredded, but you basically need the starch and the protein of the wheat for ingredient functionality,” says Bonner. “Shredded wheat is typical, but you could also blend other healthy whole grains at lower levels of inclusion. For example, you can combine wheat, oat and barley at lower levels to make a shredded multigrain product.” Plus other ingredients are added for flavor and piece integrity.

For gun puffing or direct-expansion extrusion, it’s important to consider the grain attributes. Because of their starch availability, “look at the corn, rice or wheat,” says Bonner. “They will expand. The best example is a corn curl. That is straight corn flour or corn meal. There is a large cellular structure in the interior of the corn curl. Compare that to something like Apple Jacks or Lucky Charms.” Many cereal products contain oat flour to help control expansion for a more uniform cellular structure, since oats and barley do not expand as well. “Oats are often used in this manner to control the expansion of grains that are highly expandable,” he says

Granola is a good example of clustering. “It’s usually an oat base with maybe combinations of other flaked grains, sweeteners, nuts, milk, coconut or flavorings,” Bonner says.

“Most cereal manufacturers have the basic technologies and combine these technologies in terms of clustering to create alternate textures and incorporate other ingredients, such as raisins and fruits,” Bonner says. Five or six basic technologies can create different textural, appearance and flavor combinations.

Bar basics

As cereal manufacturers look to expand their product lines, they are addressing consumers’ need for convenience by offering their product in a handheld format. Skip the milk, and cereal can be eaten on the run.

Bars typically contain 50% to 60% grains combined with other ingredients, such as fruit, nuts, seeds and the sweetener-based binding matrix needed to hold the bar together. Bonner recommends starting with whole grains as a base: “I think of oats and barley first, because of their fiber contribution, the soluble fiber content and the cholesterol- reduction claim. The claims boost a product’s appeal from marketing and technical perspectives.”

Oats and barley have both functional and health attributes, while “corn, rice and wheat also have functional properties in terms of the cellular structure,” Bonner says. “The entrapment of air can alter the texture, depending on the level of oat flour, which relates to size of cell structure.” Combining grains can create different textures, especially for ingredients such as puffs or crisps that can be incorporated in the bar.

Part of the appeal of developing bars, Nicholson believes, is the myriad different ingredients that lend themselves to different textures, from crunchy to softer products. “Lots of ingredients offer a lot more flavor,” she says. “You can provide elements of the traditional, and combine milk and yogurt, granola, marshmallow and sweet notes, such as caramel, nuts and fruit. You can get a lot of flavor in a dry form that doesn’t require refrigeration. It fits the void in a.m. snacking.”

The real bar benefit may come in the form of targeted nutrition. Bonner points out the branded products with health claims targeting women’s nutrition, the elderly population and certain subcategories. This is especially effective in the bar category.

Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive, vice president, chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Inc., Schnectady, NY, suggests selecting nutrients for certain demographics. A bar for women should include increased calcium to help ward off osteoporosis, for example, and he suggests including 60% to 75% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium. For rapidly growing children, more B vitamins should be included, at 30% to 35% RDI. “Those are energy boosters,” he says. “For seniors, because they typically don’t go outside, vitamin D has to be there. All bars should include the standard package of vitamins: B complex, vitamin C and the fat-soluble vitamins A and E. Calcium is such a universal nutrient every segment should have it, no matter what. You’ve got to have a small amount of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, iron and selenium.”

Selecting nutrients for a bar is more complex than simply identifying levels of desired vitamins or minerals. It’s important to think about processing; since quantities may be so minute, they are best added in a premix. Some nutrients, such as vitamins A, B1, and C, are heat labile and degrade rapidly. Microencapsulating nutrients can increase shelf life and prevent interactions between ingredients; for example, iron, acting as a catalyst, can destroy vitamin C. “There are a host of reactions that can cause problems,” Chaudhari says. “These are all part of designing a proper nutrient system or product formulation.”

Food bars provide the perfect vehicle for enhanced nutrition. Heart-healthy plant sterols and omega-3s are easily incorporated, as are soy, flax, grape seed and other nutraceutical type ingredients.

Grabbing a targeted nutrient package as we head out the door may seem futuristic, but our lifestyles sometimes demand we keep up. Thankfully, breakfast can come in many different forms, from elegant or comforting to leisurely or dashed. Occasionally, it may even be exciting!

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].

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