Going by the queues and social media pictures, those wobbly souffle pancakes are what a lot of Singaporeans are having for weekend brunch these days. After all, who can resist that fragrant, pillowy-soft and light-as-air stack of goodness after patting on the butter and drenching it in syrup?
It’s a yummy once-a-week treat, for sure. But when it comes to what your body needs, this food craze may not pass muster. And you probably have an inkling that the same could be said of most brunch options at your favourite hipster cafe.
But just how unhealthy are your weekend brunch indulgences? And is there a way to make them a wee bit healthier?
First things first: Yes, brunch food isn't exactly good for you. “They are usually abundant in simple carbohydrates and fats from the cream, fried items, and processed meats such as sausages, bacon and ham,” said Patsy Soh, a dietitian with Mindful Nutrition. And that’s not mentioning the high salt and sugar content from the sauces, processed proteins, and syrups, she added.
A good rule of thumb is to separate the consumption of any caffeinated beverage and iron-containing foods by at least one hour.
The experts that CNA Lifestyle spoke to say that there isn't any particular “worst” brunch item you can order as each dish has its nutritional downside; some are high in sodium, while others have sky-high sugar content.
Take souffle pancakes, for instance. A serving of this Instagrammable dish can clock in over 300 calories and 19.3g of sugar, according to the Spark Recipes website. And that's before you even pour on the syrup; each tablespoon of syrup has about 14g of sugar. And we're not even talking about that extra dollop of cream or a scoop of ice cream.
“Sugar should contribute to no more than 10 per cent of your total calorie intake, which translates into approximately 40g to 55g, or eight to 11 teaspoons daily," said dietitian Lua Chong Ying from Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As for your fat intake, it should not exceed 35 per cent of your total calorie intake, said Lua. That means no more than 770 calories for men, and 630 calories for women. For comparison, one tablespoon of hollandaise sauce alone has about 80 calories of fat.
READ: If you really want a wobbly souffle pancake – here are some places that are worth the calories
Brunch dishes that contain processed meats are another consideration as they are known to be sodium bombs. One bacon rash has about 192mg of sodium, while a piece of sausage has 1,020mg, said Lua. Your recommended sodium intake? Within 5g a day, and even less (2g) if you have high blood pressure, heart failure or chronic kidney disease, she said.
COFFEE AND BRUNCH MAY NOT BE A GOOD IDEA
What can also affect your nutritional situation is the combination of food you eat, said Lua. “Different nutrients taken together can enhance their absorption. Some examples include the increased absorption of iron when taken with Vitamin C, the better intake of calcium when taken with Vitamin D, as well as healthy oils with fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K.”
And what about beverages, such as tea and coffee, or if you’re having champagne or a bellini? “Caffeine can reduce the absorption of certain nutrients, such as iron," said Lua.
In fact, drinking caffeine in excess (more than three and a half cups or 350mg a day) while consuming an iron source, such as red meat, can reduce the amount of iron absorbed by up to 80 per cent,” said Sam Miller, a nutritionist with Pure Fitness. “A good rule of thumb is to separate the consumption of any caffeinated beverage and iron-containing foods by at least one hour.”
We also hate to break it to you but that flute of champagne doesn’t go down well with your brunch. “Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable molecules by decreasing the release of enzymes that digest our food,” said Miller.
Worse, it damages the cells in the stomach’s and intestines’ linings, reducing their ability to absorb nutrients. It’s probably okay if you are drinking during brunch once a month. “But if you are brunching with alcohol every day, it may become a problem,” said Miller.
HOW TO MAKE BRUNCH FOOD BETTER FOR YOU
The next time you’re brunching at a cafe, here's some food for thought before you order.
- SOUFFLE PANCAKES
Other than baking powder, the other ingredient that is typically used to make these pancakes rise and give them their fluffiness are whisked egg whites. That isn’t a bad thing as egg whites are a good source of protein, said Soh, who explained that protein keeps you feeling full for longer.
However, the pancakes are also heavy on refined carbohydrates, said Lua, as they are usually made with cake flour (which is regular flour with baking powder incorporated) or rice flour. “Sugar and syrup are also key ingredients in a pancake recipe, which are sources of refined sugars.”
If you want a healthier version of these jiggly pancakes, top them with fruits instead of cream and butter.
- AVOCADO TOAST WITH EGGS
This is not a bad option for brunch. “Avocado is a source of monounsaturated fats – commonly known as good fats, while eggs contain protein and toast, carbohydrates,” said Lua. To make it even better, ask for wholemeal bread and a serving of salad. And skip the processed meats such as bacon.
- EGGS BENEDICT WITH HOLLANDAISE SAUCE ON TOAST
Yes, eggs are protein powerhouses but if you’re drowning them in hollandaise sauce, that’s not a good move, said Lua. “Hollandaise sauce contains high amounts of saturated fats as well as sodium. Try to take it in moderation.” To up your dietary fibre intake, which this dish lacks, have some fruit on the side or toast made with fibre-enhanced bread instead of white bread.
- FRENCH TOAST
What makes this dish so delicious is the dusting of powdered sugar and dousing of syrup – all sources of refined sugars, said Lua. Like the souffle pancakes, incorporating fruits into your french toast may be a great way of obtaining dietary fibre for the day, she said.
- CROQUE MADAME OR MONSIEUR
Whether it’s “madame” or “monsieur” (both are made with rich bechamel sauce, cheese and ham but croquet madame has the addition of a fried egg), it spells lots of saturated fats and sodium for you, said Soh. In addition, the World Health Organization has noted links to colorectal and stomach cancers from eating processed meat, which includes ham. Who knew a sandwich could be so dangerous?
- ENGLISH BREAKFAST
A hearty appetite calls for a hearty breakfast and this certainly does the job. But what may seem good for you, such as the mushrooms and tomatoes, may not be depending on how they are cooked, said Lua.
“Pan-frying food may require a larger amount of oil than boiling, steaming, grilling, stewing, broiling or blanching,” she said, referring to how the vegetables are usually prepared. And that’s not mentioning the bacon and sausages, which are loaded with carcinogenic nitrates, sodium and saturated fat, she said.
For a more complete breakfast, you might be better off ordering a plain omelette or poached eggs with smoked salmon, salad and wholegrain toast on the side.
- GRANOLA BOWL WITH YOGHURT
Can this seemingly healthy option go wrong? “Granola is a good source of wholegrain, whilst yoghurt is a good source of protein and calcium,” said Lua. “However, many commercially available granola and yoghurt are often flavoured with copious amounts of sugar.”
For a healthier granola bowl, DIY the granola mix at home. Assembling the bowl yourself further helps you to control what you’re putting into your body, such as using plain yoghurt for less sugar, more fresh fruit, and toasted nuts and seeds for extra fibre, and less dried fruit to lessen the sugar, said Soh.