For the past several years now, my friend has had a liquid breakfast. One ‘square’ meal of UP&GO for breakfast every morning. Every day he bashes his fist against the snooze button, rolls out of bed, saunters to the kitchen, and chugs an UP&GO. While I admire his dedication – and envy his lack of taste – I’ve always wondered how appropriate an UP&GO is as a consistent dietary choice.
It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, with a large body of evidence consistently showing the benefits of a healthy breakfast. Skipping breakfast is associated with increased weight gain, decreased mental performance, and a less nutritious diet overall. Breakfast should certainly be something everybody is encouraged to be consuming. But now there’s a new kid on the block. Once the realm of very low-calorie diets, weight-loss shakes and astronaut food, there are now many liquid meals on the market, often taking the form of liquid breakfasts. UP&GO, Devondale Fast Start, Soylent and more, all offer some kind of dairy-based breakfast alternative. While Sanitarium’s UP&GO is fairly referred to as ‘a good breakfast option for when you are on the go’, some of these beverages like Soylent (a clever take on the film Soylent Green) advertise themselves as a ‘staple meal’. Seeing our supermarket shelves stocked full of these beverages clearly shows how well they’ve been adopted by consumers – but are these beverages as healthy as they are convenient, or is it all just marketing? Could these beverages be as good as your traditional bowl of oats?
Are liquid breakfasts healthy?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these liquid breakfasts were a healthy meal in their own right after seeing a 5 Health Star Rating on UP&GO Reduced Sugar in the supermarket. Indeed, many of these liquid breakfasts are actually fairly nutritionally sound, but there are many ways in which they’re trumped by a more typical breakfast, and not just in price.
Firstly: let’s start with the positives
A quick scan of the nutritional information for some of these drinks shows that many offer a quick serve of low-fat dairy, are low in saturated fat, low in sodium, high in potassium, high in protein, have a healthy serve of mono and polyunsaturated fat and are fortified with a range of essential vitamins and minerals – including folate and calcium at reasonably effective doses (around 20-50% RDI). All good stuff. Of particular note here is the fibre content; most of these drinks seem to average around 4-5g of dietary fibre per serve, which is very refreshing to see. Most recent government data shows Australian adults to be consistently under consuming dietary fibre, on average consuming less than 23g/day, while the Nutrient Reference Values for dietary fibre suggest an adequate intake of 25g/day for women and 30g/day for men. This means that consuming two standard UP&GO’s at 4.3g/serve or 8.6g for two, can provide around a third of an adult’s daily fibre needs. Fantastic! Right?
But the negatives?
Though many of these foods possess balanced portions of macronutrients and a decent helping of essential micronutrients, they simply do not offer the same benefits you get from a traditional meal. Aside from the excess sugar and low satiety rating, a pervasive argument against consuming calorically-dense beverages is that many of them lack any meaningful amount of dietary fibre. Similarly, one of the chief arguments against the fad of juicing is that by mechanically separating the juice from the pulp, you’re removing most of the much-needed fibre component from the food. But as we’ve just discussed, many of these liquid breakfasts do contain a decent helping of fibre, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely safe from scrutiny.
Various forms of dietary fibre produce an array of different effects towards the digestion process and the microbiota of the gut. The dietary fibre present in most of these liquid breakfast drinks is inulin – a plant-derived group of polysaccharides that acts as a form of soluble fibre. Though inulin is supported by the literature as an effective form of soluble fibre, soluble fibre alone should not form the sole fibre component of a balanced meal.Meyer DStasse-Wolthuis M. The bifidogenic effect of inulin and oligofructose and its consequences for gut health. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;63(11):1277-1289. The Dieticians Association of Australia recommends eating ‘a variety of foods rich in both insoluble and soluble fibre’ as they each have different roles within the body. Of course having some form of fibre in a meal is better than none, but if these beverages are being used to replace entire meals, there is the concern that the health-promoting effects of fibre will be minimised by having a significant majority of dietary fibre intake coming from a singular soluble fibre source. Some drinks like UP&GO do actually do possess some forms of insoluble fibre – in this case the proprietary hi maize™ starch – but there currently isn’t any literature on this particular form of resistant starch showing its usefulness, and the proportions of inulin and hi maize™ starch aren’t disclosed, meaning the overall balance of fibre could still be somewhat out of whack.
Fibre isn’t the only component of food potentially missing from these drinks. Certain phytochemicals, dubbed phytonutrients, have been demonstrated to possess several health-promoting mechanisms.Verma A, Rahal A, . M, . A, . R, . S et al. Phytonutrients and Nutraceuticals in Vegetables and Their Multi-dimensional Medicinal and Health Benefits for Humans and Their Companion Animals: A Review. Journal of Biological Sciences. 2014;14(1):1-19. Phytochemicals are non-nutrient compounds excreted by plants and plant products that are shown to have a bioactive effect on the body. A traditional breakfast of oats contains several phytochemicals including; carotenoids – which can act as an antioxidant, avenanthramides – possessing anti-inflammatory properties, and the cholesterol-lowering β-glucan. These beneficial compounds are simply not as easily found in heavily-processed food items like these liquid breakfasts. Similarly, some important micronutrients such as iron, something many women are deficient in, are simply not present in many of these meals.
Finally, there’s the sugar content. Continuing with the example of UP&GO, in order to match a meager breakfast of 400kcals, you’d need to consume two standard UP&GOs (390kcals). At 19.3g/serve, this adds up to a pretty significant 38.6g of sugar. Bear in mind the World Health Organization recommends adults exceed no more than 10% total energy intake coming from sugar, and for a standard 2200kcal/day diet, this equates to around 70% an adult’s daily sugar intake in one meal. Though milk and milk products contain the natural sugar lactose, every liquid breakfast I’ve researched has contained some form of added-sugar; something that should be limited where possible.
Aside from the nutritional value of the drinks, the other major area to be questioned here is just how filling are they; do they leave you full and satisfied or hungry and likely to binge?
A question of satiety
The satiating effects of liquids versus solids has long been questioned. Conventional wisdom tells us that energy-dense drinks like sugar-sweetened beverages won’t fill us up and simply provide us with ‘empty calories’. Likewise, even standard weight-loss advice tells us to avoid ‘drinking your calories’, but what does the science have to tell us?
A 2003 review shows the satiety rating of liquid foods vs solid foods to be dependent on a number of factors, including water-content, volume and texture, and shows that typically solids are more satiating than liquid foods, with some notable exceptions.Almiron-Roig E, Chen Y, Drewnowski A. Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence?. Obesity Reviews. 2003;4(4):201-212. Soups are consistently shown across the literature to be highly satiating, and more satiating than an energy-matched solid food equivalent.Mattes R. Soup and satiety. Physiology & Behavior. 2005;83(5):739-747. This satiating effect is likely due to a number of psychological and physiological mechanisms; the soup texture (chunky or pureed) seems to affect satiety (chunky is more satiating), and even the act of chewing has been linked to decrease hunger and increase fasting between meals.Miquel-Kergoat S, Azais-Braesco V, Burton-Freeman B, Hetherington M. Effects of chewing on appetite, food intake and gut hormones: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiology & Behavior. 2015;151:88-96. It should be noted that soups are only shown to be more satiating when they are energy matched with solid counterparts. This means that as soups contain a far greater water content than most solids and are relatively less calorically-dense, a greater volume is required to form an energy equivalent. If these foods were matched for volume, the more calorically-dense solids would likely prove more satiating.
Realistically, the majority of liquid breakfasts on the market come much closer to milk drinks than they do soups. Though soups and purees are found to be highly satiating, milk drinks have been shown to be similarly satiating to sugar-sweetened beverages.Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga M. No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads. American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;86(6):1586-1594. Further, most of these liquid breakfasts seem to hover around the 200kcal mark per serve, which for most people, simply does not provide enough energy for a healthy start to the day. You could of course, take two or three serves each morning, but then the above issues mentioned about sugar content and a singular source of fibre would be exacerbated. Consuming a low-calorie food item that provides a questionable level of satiation is likely to impact eating behaviour and food choices throughout the rest of the day. Much like skipping breakfast, consuming a low-satiety meal in the morning is likely to negatively impact eating patterns and cause binging, cravings and generally lower the quality of your diet.
So, liquid breakfasts are probably not terribly filling which can have adverse effects on food choices and behaviour. Bummer. But…
Is there a place for liquid breakfasts in a balanced diet?
The short answer: of course – though caution should certainly be issued and there are other alternatives to rolling out of bed and necking one of these drinks on the way to work. Overall, aside from a few questionable areas outlined above, many of these meals seem to be a reasonable replacement for the odd meal at breakfast. Though missing a few healthy compounds and having a little extra sugar in the one meal is ok – if taken every day – eventually these could lead towards more serious health outcomes and deficiencies. Likewise, the health risks associated with reduced satiety are very real. Daily consumption of these products could negatively affect eating behaviours and food choices, which may further increase risk of chronic disease, foremost among them type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. If liquid breakfasts are to be consumed, your best option would be to combine them with a serving of solid food to fill any nutritional gaps lacking in the product, and give you something more substantial to fill you up – hopefully mitigating some of the issues outlined above. Not sure what to combine your product with? Check out The Nutrition Press’ own Raenie Zwierlein’s article on getting a balanced breakfast on the go! Here she covers a wide variety of the instant breakfast products available, goes over their pros and cons, and offers suggestions to supplement them to become a more complete meal. Besides, who doesn’t want another excuse to eat more food?
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Meyer DStasse-Wolthuis M. The bifidogenic effect of inulin and oligofructose and its consequences for gut health. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;63(11):1277-1289.|
|2.||⇪||Verma A, Rahal A, . M, . A, . R, . S et al. Phytonutrients and Nutraceuticals in Vegetables and Their Multi-dimensional Medicinal and Health Benefits for Humans and Their Companion Animals: A Review. Journal of Biological Sciences. 2014;14(1):1-19.|
|3.||⇪||Almiron-Roig E, Chen Y, Drewnowski A. Liquid calories and the failure of satiety: how good is the evidence?. Obesity Reviews. 2003;4(4):201-212.|
|4.||⇪||Mattes R. Soup and satiety. Physiology & Behavior. 2005;83(5):739-747.|
|5.||⇪||Miquel-Kergoat S, Azais-Braesco V, Burton-Freeman B, Hetherington M. Effects of chewing on appetite, food intake and gut hormones: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiology & Behavior. 2015;151:88-96.|
|6.||⇪||Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga M. No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads. American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;86(6):1586-1594.|