WHAT CONSTITUTES A HEALTHY BREAKFAST?

Although there are sound medical reasons for eating breakfast every day, when I look at the typical breakfast food offerings at many restaurants, supermarkets, and food trucks, and I think about the health of our nation, it’s sad! Muffins, bagels, donuts, pancakes, waffles, French toast sticks… Want some bacon, sausage, or fried potatoes with that, sir?

We are traditionally led to believe that a “well-balanced breakfast” consists of a big bowl of cereal and a few decorative strawberries on top, with a tall glass of orange juice. We believe that you need the calcium in that milk, that vitamin C in that orange juice, and the carbs in that cereal for energy. But do you?

Eating like this may be okay once in a while, but if you do so often, I guarantee these foods will make you both fat and sick, sooner or later!

Why are familiar breakfast foods not great for you?

Simply put, to the cells in your body, a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, or a piece of toast, or a muffin are all no different than a dessert. Processed carbohydrates and sugars cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise. The insulin easily ushers all that sugar into your fat cells, where it becomes stored energy, also known as body fat.

The animal fats in bacon, sausage, and butter can clog up arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes. Cured meats and other processed foods a cause trouble for several reasons, especially because the high salt content causes us to retain water and pushes the blood pressure up. This is all a recipe for weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol… and eventually, heart disease.

So… what should we eat for breakfast?

The answer is basic healthy eating advice: fruits and vegetables, whole (unprocessed) grains, and healthy proteins and fats. This is not a trend, this is not a hippie opinion. The evidence is overwhelming. And I love bacon. But, I treat it with respect because it can (and does) cause great harm to the human body if eaten often.

But many people need more guidance than just a list of food groups, including how to do so when you have a busy life.

So here’s what I suggest:

If you’re often on the go, your may need something quick, easy, transportable, and budget-friendly. So, try putting together an easy fruit/yogurt/grain/nut bowl every single day. Here’s a possible three-ingredient recipe:

  • Frozen fruit: berries, mixed fruit, fruit with kale bits, whatever. Fruit is frozen at the peak of freshness, so the quality and vitamin content can be better than what’s in the produce aisle. Try buying large bags of frozen mixed berries at the wholesale club or discount grocery, as they are much more economical than fresh and don’t go bad.
  • Nuts and/or seeds and/or grains of your preference: for example, unsalted nuts, toasted seeds or grains, or a combination such as a low-sugar granola.
  • Your favorite yogurt, ideally plain or low-sugar.
  • Eggs are no longer considered anathema, so an occasional one or two are OK, and consider hard-boiled, especially if you’re on the go.
  • More leisurely breakfast at home: You might add whole-grain toast, but make sure it contains whole grain on the label, contains less than 180 mg. of sodium and fewer than 110 calories per slice, with no saturated or trans-fats. But be careful what spread you place on top: Instead of butter, consider cholesterol-lowering sterols/stanols such as Benecol, but others containing olive oil are also acceptable.

Why is this a healthy breakfast?

The fruit is not a token sprinkle, nor a decorative touch. The fruit makes up the bulk of this meal. There’s fiber in the fruit (but little in most juices), and plant sugars in their natural form, not to mention healthy fat in the nuts, and protein in the yogurt. A low-sugar yogurt will leave us feeling more satisfied, for longer. We won’t get the insulin spike that triggers hunger pangs (unlike when we eat processed carbs).

If you want to step it up a notch, ditch the dairy. We can get plenty of calcium and other vitamins from leafy greens and other veggies, so take your choice. At any rate, consider yogurt, for it contains not only creamy protein and probiotics, which can be weighed against the recognized risks of regular consumption of animal products that should be limited as much as possible. The rest is up to you.

Enjoy!

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SOME WAYS TO EAT A BETTER BREAKFAST

As you sleep, your body is hard at work digesting yesterday’s dinner. By the time you wake up, your body and brain are demanding fresh fuel. “Breaking the fast” is a key way to power up in the morning. Do it right and the benefits can last all day. If you miss the day’s first meal, you may start off with an energy deficit and have to tap into your energy reserves. I have listed additional advantages provided by a regular breakfast in a previous post.

What’s a good breakfast? It’s one that delivers some healthful protein, some slowly digested carbohydrates, and some fruit or vegetables. A vegetable omelet with a slice of whole-grain toast qualifies, as does a bowl of high-fiber cereal topped with fresh fruit and reduced-fat or soy milk, along with a handful of almonds or walnuts.

Choose whole grains. High-fiber, whole-grain cereals and breads can help keep your blood sugar on an even keel and avoid a midmorning energy crash. With the hundreds of types of cereal on the market, bran cereal, bran flakes, and steel-cut oatmeal are typically the healthiest bets. To choose the healthiest breakfast cereal, read the label and look for:

  • 5 grams or more of fiber per serving
  • less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • whole grain as the first item on the ingredient list

Include protein. Yogurt is a good choice; Greek yogurt has more protein than regular yogurt. Eggs (up to one a day) are okay for healthy people. Although yolks are high in cholesterol, eggs have proteins, vitamins, and other nutrients and don’t appear to increase the risk for developing heart disease. You might also include foods that have healthful fats such as those in nuts, avacodo, or salmon. Limit processed meats to the occasional treat as these foods are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Eat in, not out. You can enjoy a healthful breakfast out if you stick to oatmeal. But much of the traditional fare will start your day with loads of refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Like most processed food, the breakfast offerings from fast-food chains tend to be high-sodium, low-fiber disasters.

Blend up a breakfast smoothie. Combine fruit, juice, yogurt, wheat germ, tofu, and other ingredients. Toss them in your blender with a bit of ice and you have a refreshing, high energy breakfast

These are but a few ideas to get you started. Obviously there are lots of variations that still allow one to stick to the basic principles. With a little creativity, everyone can reach the same goal, with better health on the line!

 

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EAT A GOOD BREAKFAST: WAS MOTHER RIGHT OR WRONG?

                         

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  We have, from time immemorial, been universally admonished by mothers to eat a good breakfast. But why is this? Scientific information seems to be mixed—or at best inconclusive—about this matter. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended breakfast for children but provided no guidance for adults, stating “behaviors have been studied, such as snacking or frequency of eating, but there is currently not enough evidence to support a specific recommendation for these behaviors.” Results from a 2002 National Health and Nutrition Survey indicate that snacking and skipping breakfast are common, with 18% of the populace skipping breakfast and 86% snacking each day. Moreover, another US survey from 1965 to 1991 disclosed that, during that period, breakfast consumption had dropped from 86% to 75%. Thus mothers seem to have lost control of sizeable portions of our population, exposing us to potentially risky eating habits.

    Various small scientific studies have suggested that skipping breakfast may carry several adverse consequences, including weight gain, elevated blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, development of diabetes, and increased risk of heart disease. Although we can correlate skipping breakfast with various unfavorable outcomes, that does not prove a cause and effect relationship between the two. That is, do people who skip breakfast possess other traits such as intermittent snacking that predispose them to these various health risks? And would merely adding breakfast to one’s ordinary eating habits produce the universal health benefits we desire?  

    Although still not conclusive, the evidence supporting the health benefits of eating breakfast continues to mount. A recent large study appearing in the American Heart Association Journal, Circulation,#  showed that, after being followed for a period of 16 years, men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart disease compared with those who did not. What was most surprising about this study, however, was that, even though those skipping breakfast possessed more risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, when the researchers corrected for these variables, those eating breakfast still had better long-term reductions of heart disease. This is powerful information that supports the idea that, by just including breakfast alone in your program, you may be reducing your chances of disease.

     Some of the immediate benefits of breakfast are scientifically documented: These include improved concentration and performance at school or work, better physical strength, endurance, and improved eye-hand coordination. 

    The longer term benefits of breakfast are more complex but seem to be based on multiple factors as noted: Breakfast is more apt to contain more nutritious foods such as fruit and protein. Protein also provides more persistent satiation that delays hunger and, therefore, the desire for mid-morning snacks. Protein is especially helpful, for it not only provides a lengthier sense of fullness but also burns up more energy while being digested, resulting in fewer excess net calories to deal with. Therefore, don’t forget to include protein sources such as eggs, yogurt, low-fat milk, cheese, nuts, etc., but minimize such processed meat sources as bacon, sausage and the like, for the latter pose, in themselves, significant threats to health (see my previous post about red meat). 

     Another possibility contributing to the dangers of skipping breakfast is that, after an overnight fast, the body’s metabolic rate slows sufficiently to retard the burning of calories, and by prolonging this fasting period, we are more apt to turn the furnace down to “low”, burn up fewer calories, and allow for more conversion to fat that was designed for storage during lean periods.  Unfortunately, the obesity produced by excess fat then contributes to hypertension and diabetes.   

    In conclusion, I must admit that science—while moving at a fairly decent pace—has still not caught up with mother! So I say to one and all, eat your breakfast every morning, and it better be more than just a doughnut and coffee, or I’ll tell mother on you!



# Cahill LE. et al. Prospective study of breakfast eating and incident coronary heart disease in a cohort of male US health professionals. Circulation. 2013;128:337-343.

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