Mom was right, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Let’s think about this for a moment. It’s been 12 hours or more since you’ve last nourished yourself, and yes, you’ve been sleeping but you’ve also been working hard in your sleep. Among other things, you’ve created memory, boosted your immune system, regenerated and repaired tissues, produced hormones, and done a great deal of detoxification.
Many people think that by skipping breakfast they will “save” calories to be able to eat more later in the day. During sleep your body operates at a 15% reduced rate of metabolism. There are only two things that will stimulate your metabolism to return it to a waking state: exercise and yes, you guessed it…eating. So skipping breakfast (unless you got up and ran a mile or two) actually means that your body continues to exist at a lowered metabolic state and burns fewer calories.
Let’s turn to some ancient wisdom to see what’s eaten for breakfast in traditional diets across the globe:
In Germany…sausages, raw local cheeses, naturally fermented sourdough bread
In Vietnam…hot steaming bowl of Pho, a noodle soup traditionally made with bone broth that’s been stewed all night long, beef tendon, coagulated blood, and a huge pile of fresh herbs and vegetables
In Turkey…cheese, butter, eggs, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, various meats, and honey
In Peru…Adobo, a cumin-spiced pork stew with bread or ceviché, citrus-marinated seafood and chicha, a fermented corn drink
In Uganda…Katogo, a stew containing offal and legumes served over green plantains
In the UK…the Full Breakfast: bacon, sausage, fried eggs, toast, beans (England), blood pudding (Ireland), haggis (Scotland)
In India…Aloo Paratha: unleavened whole-wheat bread stuffed with vegetables and fried in ghee, washed down with a lassi, a yogurt drink
Busy schedules, sleep deprivation, and a deluge of convenient breakfast foods have led us to eat breakfasts far removed from those of our ancestors or worse yet, no breakfast at all. Breakfast, once deemed the most important meal, has been relegated to an afterthought. A 2005 ABC News Poll found that nearly 40% of Americans skip breakfast and that of those that do eat it, over 30% choose cold breakfast cereal.
So let’s talk about that cereal…it’s made from grains that have been ground up into a slurry with water and extruded at high temperatures and pressures through tiny holes into fun little crunchy o’s, flakes, hearts, and honeycombs, often combined with food coloring and other chemical additives, and finally sprayed with oil and copious amounts of sugar. A number of nutrients are destroyed during the violent extrusion process, even ones that were added back to compensate for those lost during processing. And yes, this also applies to the “healthy” whole grain cereals with no added colors and less sugar.
Unfortunately, other common breakfast foods are hardly better. Muffins, bagels, toast, scones, danishes, croissants…they are all made from highly processed grains and loaded with sugar. Even foods that don’t taste sweet but are made with refined flours are metabolized like sugar and have the same effect on blood sugar.
Eating a sugary, high-carb breakfast sets a person up for blood sugar dysregulation, energy crashes, and sugar cravings throughout the day. Such oscillations in blood sugar can lead to fatigue, inability to concentrate, moodiness, headaches, irritability, depression, and over time, resistance to insulin, the hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar. Stress amplifies this effect even further. It is important to eat plenty of high-quality protein and fat in the morning to ensure sustained energy throughout the day and to prevent those brownie cravings in the afternoon.
I hate to break it to you, but coffee doesn’t count as breakfast. Having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning can trick your body into thinking it doesn’t need breakfast by suppressing your appetite and causing the release of cortisol, the stress or fight-or-flight hormone. It causes stored carbohydrates to be broken down and released into the bloodstream, thereby increasing your blood sugar in case you’re running away from a bear.
If you've eaten a nourishing breakfast, a similar thing would be accomplished, the difference being that you wouldn't have used up your energy stores and you will have provided yourself with plenty of nutrients that you need to navigate your day. Otherwise, once the caffeine has worn off, you’ll be left with empty nutrient and energy coffers, potentially leading to irritability, headaches and other symptoms of having extremely low blood sugar, and again, setting yourself for sugar cravings and energy crashes for the rest of the day.
Switching from a blueberry muffin to whole grain porridge such as steel-cut oats, quinoa, millet, or brown rice is certainly an improvement. But I must caution you about eating a diet heavy in grains. All grains and seeds contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid, which binds important minerals and prevent their proper absorption into your body. A diet heavily reliant on grains may lead to severe mineral deficiencies. Traditional preparations of grains neutralize phytic acid and include soaking in acidic medium, sprouting, or fermenting. Read this article to learn more about phytic acid and proper grain preparation. Properly prepared whole grain porridge can be a warm, comforting addition to breakfast. Make a large amount on Sunday night, then eat it throughout the week. Make sure to add a healthy pat of grass-fed butter or coconut oil—in addition to being an important nutrient, fat helps to temper the effect of insulin, allowing for a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream and increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Add an egg or two and some whole-fat yogurt and you’ve got breakfast.
So what should you eat for breakfast? Although the afore mentioned breakfast food items from around the world would all make great breakfasts, I realize it’s a bit unrealistic to think that many of us will start eating blood sausage, noodle soup, or ceviché in the morning. And after reading last month's blog post you're all stocked up on pastured eggs...
If you have the appetite for it, good ol’ eggs and bacon or sausage (from pastured animals) need not be a treat just for a Saturday morning.
Or what about that frittata that you made for Sunday brunch? Make extra and eat it for breakfast for the next couple of days. Worried about the cholesterol and saturated fat? I addressed this issue in my last post, but in short these are necessary nutrients that have never actually been shown to cause cardiovascular disease.
High quality protein and fat, especially in the morning, give you sustained energy that leave you well nourished and feeling satisfied.
‘But I’m not hungry first thing in the morning/I don’t have time to make breakfast!’ it takes a couple of minutes to fry a couple of eggs and just over two and a half minutes to make an omelet (I timed myself this morning--check out the video). Ok, an extra two to chop the herbs and grate the cheese.
And if you’re not in the habit of eating breakfast, it may be difficult to go straight to bacon and eggs, so try a simple breakfast smoothie, which goes down easily and can be blended up the night before and stored in the fridge.
Give it a try!
Try blending together any combination of the following:
3/4 cup plain whole yogurt
½ cup coconut milk
1 T almond (or any other nut) butter
1/4 -1/2 avocado
½ cup fresh fruit
handfuls of green veggies (kale, spinach, chard, collards, etc.)
other possible additions: eggs, Brewer’s yeast (packed with B vitamins), whey protein powder (if you’re not sensitive to dairy), ground flax seeds
Or take advantage of the spring bounty:
Spring Vegetable Frittata
3 T butter
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 green garlic, sliced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
½ cup cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
¼ t ground nutmeg
1 cup of fontina cheese
salt and pepper
parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk eggs, cream, nutmeg, ½ cup of cheese, and ½ t salt and some freshly ground pepper together in a bowl. Set aside.
Heat an ovenproof 10” skillet on the stovetop and melt butter. Add all the vegetables with a sprinkle of salt and pepper to sauté for about 5 minutes.
Add the egg mixture, and stir just to combine. Cook on medium heat until bottom has set and top has just begun to set, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and transfer skillet to oven until eggs are just set, about 10 minutes.
Place in broiler for an additional minute or two to brown the top. Garnish with parsley.