09 Oct THE GUANDIAN: Breakfast bowls: superfood or just the latest diet fad?
Bursting with colour, breakfast bowls are appearing on Instagram feeds and cafe menus all over the country. But are they more show than substance?
Forget eggs and bacon. Farewell smashed avo. The new way to start your day is with a breakfast bowl filled with kale, berries or quinoa.
These colourful bowls packed with so-called superfoods and costing up to $18 at a cafe, may be the flavour of the month, but demand for them is being driven by people with a lot of Instagram followers but not necessarily nutritional qualifications.
If you haven’t come across a breakfast bowl before, just take a look at Instagram where more than 40,000 posts are tagged as #breakfastbowl. More often than not the picture will also be tagged as #rawfood #cleaneating and #superfood.
The appeal of breakfast bowls lies not just in the way they photograph but also in the inclusion of various superfoods.
A typical breakfast bowl includes allegedly super and certainly expensive ingredients such as Brazilian acai berries as well as almonds that have been “activated” by 12 hours of soaking.
At the Dandylion in Bondi you can order an Amazonia acai bowl filled with granola and fresh fruit, while Patch cafe in Melbourne offers a bircher bowl with activated hazelnuts and almonds, goji berries and coconut yoghurt for a crunchy gluten- and dairy-free alternative to traditional bircher muesli.
Jayde Hwang, manager at Patch, says the rise of the breakfast bowl comes down to a desire to be healthy as well as the taste.
“A lot of people who come here are health-conscious,” she says. “Especially on the weekend we often have a line of people wanting to get in.”
Hwang is evangelical about her job and about healthy eating.
“I’d hate to work somewhere I didn’t believe in,” she says. “I’d feel like I’m feeding people shit, and I wouldn’t be happy about it.”
Lola Berry, author of The Happy Cookbook, is also a fan of the breakfast bowl, and has recipes for an acai bowl and chai breakfast pudding in her book.
Berry often advocates the benefits of breakfast bowls across her Instagram and Facebook feeds which boast 170,000 followers. Berry says she first came across breakfast bowls in Hawaii and was quickly hooked.
“It’s a fun way to eat,” she says. “It’s a really good way to add a lot of nutrients into one bowl.”
Berry acknowledges part of the appeal in an age of social media is the whole look of breakfast bowls with their colourful hues and #cleaneating bragging rights.
“It is a bright-coloured breakfast; it’s almost like you’re eating art.”
Berry says the popularity of breakfast bowls can be linked to the rise in health consciousness among Australians.
“I think people are just more in touch with their body and they realise ‘when I eat real food I feel awesome, when I eat junk food I don’t feel good’,” she says.
“When you realise the effect food can have on your brain and mood you realise how important it is.”
Berry is a nutritionist as well as an author, but many of the food writers, wellness bloggers and social media celebrities advocating wellness have no qualifications.
This lack of regulation has come under increased scrutiny after blogger and author Belle Gibson falsely claimed she cured herself of cancer through her diet.
But Berry says qualifications aren’t necessary to tout wellness and health.
She has just completed a “What should I eat?” seminar tour with Sarah Wilsonand David Gillespie, who she describes as “amazing food writers”.
“They don’t have qualifications but they have done their research,” Berry says.
“As a consumer getting your health information, it’s about making very smart choices. With social media these days you have to be real and authentic and people will see that.”
But Zoe Yates, lecturer at the school of biomedical sciences and pharmacy at the University of Newcastle, says authenticity only goes so far when it comes to science.
“They haven’t got the background in how the body works, metabolism, and biochemistry,” she says. “We all have different genetic makeup and metabolise food differently. We are all in different stages of our life cycle as well and nutrition needs throughout your life cycle change and are very different.”
Yates is concerned about the hype around breakfast bowls filled with superfoods such as acai.
“It might be for breakfast we have these superfoods that are more expensive but we might think ‘What is the functional property? What is it that makes us think these are super’,” Yates says.
“If you just have oats would people label them super? They are low cost, have low glycaemic index, which makes them healthy, take longer to be digested and absorbe and give you a feeling of fullness throughout the day which stops you snacking.”
Yates says rather than eating breakfast bowls filled with exotic and expensive ingredients, humble porridge with a handful of berries can be just as good.
“It’s more about sensible eating,” she says. “There’s no doubt [breakfast bowls] are healthy and better than sugared cereals or toast and peanut butter for breakfast.”
The danger lies in eating a breakfast bowl for breakfast and then thinking you can eat whatever you want for the rest of the day, according to Yates.
“If you do have healthy food for breakfast it will obviously have a health benefit but if you are going to eat rubbish throughout the day or later it counterbalances out,” she says.