Breakfast with Benefits

I have a new love in my life. It’s putting a spring in my step every morning and I’m glowing for hours when I get to work. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied! It’s enough to start rumours. Who exactly is my newfound love affair? 

STEEL CUT OATS.

I was already an oatmeal addict. An effortless and comforting breakfast, it’s full of whole grain goodness and fibre for only 120 calories a bowl. Irresistible! So when my naturopath suggested I try the steel cut variety, I was keen. Also known as Irish or Scottish oats, steel cut oats are oat kernels which have been coarsely cut by a metal blade. Because of this, they have a lower glycemic index (GI) than their rolled counterparts (which are steamed oat kernels rolled into flakes). Why is low GI good? The carbohydrate in the food breaks down slower, therefore having a slower response on your blood sugar levels and helping you feel full longer.

I ordered a kilo of steel cut oats from my favourite bulk food store 2 Brothers Foods and a few days later, my future love arrived. First surprise – steel cut oats look like RICE. Second surprise (or shock) – they take 25 minutes to cook. It was nearly a deal breaker! That was NEVER going to happen before work. But then I discovered some magic…

Steel cut oats actually improve with time, becoming thicker and creamier unlike rolled oats, which turn to glue. I’ve been making steel cut oats on a Sunday using this recipe from The Healthy Chef, dividing it into bowls and then enjoying heavenly, slow-cooked breakfasts throughout the week by simply reheating in the microwave. Steel cut oats have a nutty taste and chewy texture almost like brown rice, but in a thick, oat cream. They’re so satisfying and nutritious, I feel like I’m in a Swiss alpine retreat with every spoonful.

An overripe orange inspired me to use steel cut oats to make Bircher Muesli, by soaking 1/2 cup overnight with orange juice and soy milk. It was delicious, filling and refreshing thanks to the citrus. However, I don’t think my relationship with steel cut oats is going to be exclusive. For one, you can’t make granola with them or you’ll snap a tooth. Also, the hot, creamy texture isn’t suited to all fruits and for me, cooked oats lose their magic eaten cold. 

So today, I’m sharing my weekday breakfast repertoire and a few favourite recipes. Why isn’t there any boxed cereal on this list? See my explainer at the end. 

ROLLED OATS

A 30 gram (1/3 cup) serve of rolled oats packs so much nutrition! Whole grain goodness, 4 grams of protein, a type of fibre called beta-glucan which helps with cholesterol levels, and minerals like manganese which is vital for bone formation and phosphorus for basic cell function and bone support. At $3 a kilo and 120 calories a bowl, oats are bang for your buck and bite!  

 Rolled oats: ready in three minutes and only 10 cents a serve!
Rolled oats: ready in three minutes and only 10 cents a serve!

I cook rolled oats almost daily in the microwave. It takes just three minutes and I add nothing more than a splash of soy milk, cinnamon and a sprinkle of nuts and raisins. Quick oats have a similar nutrition profile but watch for out for the individual sachets. They’re often packed with sugar, contain milk powder and have dubious flavourings. There’s a lot of controversy about whether oats are gluten-free but as I’m not a doctor or scientist, it’s best to consider this issue yourself if it’s a concern. 

Best for: time poor, budget-friendly, low calorie, cooking at work. Downside? Leftovers turn glue-like.

BUCKWHEAT

Don’t be fooled! Buckwheat doesn’t contain any wheat. It’s a seed more closely related to rhubarb than the cereals it resembles, so it’s gluten-free and paleo. A 45 gram (1/4 cup) serve has 5 grams of protein and is a source of iron (about 6% daily needs for women 19-50 years, 12% for men 19+ years) along with manganese, magnesium and copper. It’s about $4 a kilo. 

 Buckwheat: enjoy toasted like granola or cook with water and milk for a lovely porridge.
Buckwheat: enjoy toasted like granola or cook with water and milk for a lovely porridge.
 Buckwheat: enjoying as dessert at New York's Veselka.
Buckwheat: enjoying as dessert at New York’s Veselka.

You can eat roasted buckwheat groats (“kasha”) like granola, or cook groats with milk and water to make porridge, where they become something like pearl couscous. I love making mine on the stovetop with vanilla, slices of ginger, cinnamon and cloves, topped with raisins. It’s a recipe inspired by The Healthy Chef (yep, again!) and takes about 20 minutes, but you can reheat and eat during the week. Bonus? Buckwheat is a great savoury ingredient too, and can be used for pilafs, salads or sprinkled on roasted vegetables or soups for crunch! 

Best for: gluten-free, reheat-friendly, versatile, source of iron, freezer-friendly. Downside? Longer cooking time and bland on its own. It’s the only dish on this list I sweeten with a little raw honey. 

QUINOA

Quinoa (pronounced keen-WAH) is amazing. A 45 gram serve (1/4 cup) is 160 calories, contains 6 grams of protein, 10% of daily iron needs for women and 20% for men along with manganese, phosphorus and folate which our bodies need to make DNA. Quinoa is gluten-free, with a delicious but unusual nutty texture. For breakfast, I cook white quinoa as it softens much more than the red or black variety with grated apple, cinnamon and vanilla. 

I also cook large quantities in my rice cooker and then freeze it in single serves, so I can make a quick breakfast by adding hot water, milk and spices or mix it with roast vegetables and leafy greens for an easy lunch. Quinoa flakes are becoming popular as a quick-cooking option but I prefer the chewier texture of whole quinoa. One kilo costs about $16, making quinoa the most expensive option on this list. 

Best for: gluten-free, high in iron, eating cold, versatility, freezer friendly. Downside? Price, cooking time.

Click below for recipes:

WHY I DON’T EAT PACKAGED CEREAL

With all these wholesome options, I rarely buy boxed cereal. A quick scan of nutrition panels and ingredient lists is frightening! Yes, packaged cereal is quick and convenient but you lose so much nutrition from the processing. Discarding the obvious sugar-laden products like Cocoa Pops and Fruit Loops, even those marketed as ‘healthier’ don’t cut it for me: 

  • Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain: It’s 25% sugar! One cup (40 grams) has 10 grams. 
  • Kellogg’s Sultana Bran: 3/4 cup (45 grams) contains 12 grams of sugar. Some of is naturally occurring from the sultanas, but there’s still added sugar.
  • Uncle Toby’s Cheerios: Lower sugar, but do you want to start your day with food colourings?

The only commercial cereal I’d consider is Sanitarium’s Weet-Bix, with only a few simple ingredients and one gram of sugar in a 30 gram serve (2 biscuits), or a good quality natural muesli. 

 Homemade granola: easy, healthy and delicious! 
Homemade granola: easy, healthy and delicious! 

If cereal is 100% your thing, have a go at making your own granola. I make a batch fortnightly based on a recipe from The Healthy Chef, using 3 cups of rolled oats, 2 cups of flaked almonds and 1 cup of seeds (sunflower or pumpkin). Combine with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon and roast in thin layer at 120 degrees (fan-forced) for 60 minutes. Add a handful of dried fruit once cooled. It’s so easy, you’ll never get the boxed kind again! It’s a lot cheaper too. 

And of course, my breakfasts aren’t complete without a big cup of Earl Grey!

QUESTION: What’s your daily breakfast ritual? 

Perth’s Healthiest Cafes

My mum was a health freak way before #rawfood #crossfit and #paleo were trending. She was one of the original lycra leotard, aerobics devotees of the 1990s and had the perm to prove it. As a teenager, my jaw dropped when mum announced she’d made a cake. It turns out this “cake” was zucchini, yogurt and wholemeal flour. There was no icing and it certainly didn’t resemble the cookies and cakes the other kids at school had. I wasn’t impressed.

In hindsight, my mum was actually about 15 years ahead of the food scene. If Instagram was around in 2000, we could have had a booming franchise across Australia and parts of Asia by now. Instead, she had four ungrateful children telling her what a weirdo she was. I’m sorry Mum.

Putting those teenage years aside, I’m delighted my family, friends and my boyfriend all enjoy the healthy side of life nowadays. And there’s never been more venues catering for the health conscious or people with specific dietary needs. If the thought of zucchini cake makes you salivate, here are my favourite healthy Perth cafes:

  NOOD: Strange Grains toast with avocado and beetroot hummus
NOOD: Strange Grains toast with avocado and beetroot hummus

1.     nood cafe, leederville

It’s hard to beat this Leederville spot  – from the first bite, you know you’re nourishing your body with wholesome food. Everything on the menu is gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free and each meal is designed to be nutritionally balanced. The liberal use of citrus, nuts and makes already delicious dishes shine. There’s no table service but the grab and go boxes can be heated and brought out to you on a plate. The array of smaller goods on display is perfect for snacking or an extra treat to go. Bonus? The take away boxes have full nutritional info on them.

I recommend: Vegan Breakfast Bowl ($12) for post-workout brunch or Cauliflower Nasi Goreng with Satay Chicken or Tofu ($15) for a healthy, pre-movie dinner.

NOOD Cafe: http://www.nood.net.au/ 114 Oxford St, Leederville. 

 Stimulatte: Assorted mushrooms, avocado and winter green
Stimulatte: Assorted mushrooms, avocado and winter green

2. stimulatte, subiaco

My oh my. There’s health food porn and then there’s Stimulatte. This Subiaco café has become so popular, it’s started Sunday trading at a time other businesses are shutting their doors (*). The menu centres around ethical, sustainable produce and the quality of ingredients is sublime. I’ve had herbs and mushrooms so fresh it was like I’d poked my fork in a garden. Where Stimulatte really shines is in their creativity and presentation – the latest winter menu included fried king oyster mushroom “chicken” pancakes (vegan). There are plenty of baked goods and various boxes you can have to dine in or to go, with paleo, gluten-free and vegan choices too.

I recommend: Anything with mushrooms.  The vegan croissant with cashew cheese ($9) is delightful for those whose allergies/ethics prevent pastries.

Stimulatte: http://www.stimulatte.com.au/ 361 Hay St, Subiaco. 

*Unfortunately Stimulatte has closed since this post was first published. But you can visit its sister cafe Someday Coffee Co. in Floreat!

  Health Freak Cafe: Vegan pumpkin spice protein pancakes
Health Freak Cafe: Vegan pumpkin spice protein pancakes

3. health freak cafe, various locations

I visited this franchise for the first time in October at their Applecross location. I was nervous when I entered. The café almost resembled a day care centre – not so much children everywhere, but a lot of toys and tables. But my apprehension eased as soon as the smell of cinnamon wafted my way and a stack of warm pumpkin spice pancakes was placed before me. It was at least 20 centimetres tall, with caramel sauce, berries and stewed fruits dancing around the plate. But I knew this indulgent breakfast was only 380 calories and included a whopping 20 grams of protein! Everything Health Freak Cafe sells is gluten and refined sugar free, and nutritional information is listed for most menu items. You can’t get more health conscious than that! I’m not surprised this concept has boomed, with locations in Subiaco, Jacob’s Ladder, Mt Lawley, Joondalup, Halls Head and more.

I recommend: The protein pancakes ($18.20), hands down! I’ll buy a paleo dish for my boyfriend next time and let you know his verdict. 

Health Freak Cafe: http://www.healthfreakcafe.com.au/ (multiple locations) 

  Jujuberry+Co: cafe exterior
Jujuberry+Co: cafe exterior

4. jujuberry+co, mount hawthorn

My first visit to this Mt Hawthorn store was on a glorious spring day – a perfect pairing with Jujuberry’s casual outdoor seating. Inside, the long, narrow space made me instantly feel like I was in New York. I had to pinch myself when I saw a Pumpkin Spice Latte on the menu! Everything here is gluten free and vegan although they do offer cow’s milk for coffees. Curried sweet potato frittata, breakfast wraps, assorted salads and plenty of baked goods abound. The vibe is homemade and hearty rather than gourmet. It’s refreshing to find a venue that’s so down to earth.

I recommend: The menu changes frequently but if you’re in luck, there’ll be a crispy-edged curried sweet potato frittata with your name on it ($10.50). 

Jujuberry+Co: http://jujuberry.com.au/ 135 Scarborough Beach Rd, Mt Hawthorn.  

a final word…

It’s important to remember there are plenty of buzz words around health food, but their use isn’t well regulated. Something may be labelled paleo, gluten free or vegan but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. For example, sugar, oil and plain potato chips are vegan and gluten free. Bacon and eggs is paleo. A typical raw slice can pack in 500 calories and 30 grams of fat compared to a 200 calorie handful of almonds. Your bliss ball is better than a donut, but be wary of eating four in a day!

QUESTION: Where’s your ultimate health food spot in Perth?