Learn why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Some of the highest-octane fuel we can ingest is a nutritious, balanced breakfast. “No time,” you say? “I might gain weight,” you fret? “I don’t like breakfast foods,” you claim? Herein I will render you excuseless!
‘Tis true, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and there is a host of reasons to incorporate a nutritious, delicious, and perhaps not-so-traditional meal into your morning. Eaten within 45 min. of waking, breakfast helps set your mood, energy, and metabolic rate for the day and helps the body regulate that important cortisol cycle. Dysregulated or overproduction of cortisol (a hormone made by the adrenal glands) can contribute to belly fat (it’s nicknamed “the belly fat hormone”) and can keep you from a good night’s sleep.
One in five Americans skips breakfast, and many who do eat consume what amounts to a piece of cake. You wouldn’t eat a scone or muffin for dinner (would you?), so why do these choices seem fit for breakfast? They aren’t and here’s why: Pastries and the like are comprised of simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar and refined flour) that break down rapidly and make a B-line for the bloodstream, causing blood sugar to spike and then plummet due to a surge in insulin. With this blood sugar crash comes what I call “the pit,” a dip in energy and crazy hunger that make you reach for another donut before lunch. Because the body is constantly in search of homeostasis, it wants the equivalent high to the low you just subjected it to, thus the spike-inducing donut.
Make Your Choices Count
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, don’t rush to the bloodstream and save you from the blood sugar roller coaster. True whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits take longer to digest and dole our their energy-giving over time. (Bananas, cantaloupes, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples are considered simple carbohydrates due to their high sugar content; apples, cherries, grapefruits, oranges, pears, and plums contain less sugar.) Maintaining steady blood sugar levels, not just at breakfast, but also at every meal and snack, is key to warding off insulin resistance syndrome, which can be a precursor to diabetes.
The beauty of incorporating true whole grains (and some fruit) is that you’ll get a good allotment of your daily fiber needs. Fiber helps lower the risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, and diabetes, and also helps maintain blood pressure.
Still, there’s a bit more to the picture. To build a breakfast with real staying power, you need adequate protein and fat. Both help you feel fuller longer, which makes it much easier to stroll on past the box of donuts. Eggs have long been the breakfast protein staple, and for good reason – they’re a near-perfect balance of amino acids. Other nutritious breakfast proteins include nuts and nut butters, grass-fed yogurt and cheese, and hormone- and antibiotic-free breakfast meats.
Back to the fat. Good-for-you fats are an important macronutrient and won’t make you fat, as the body requires dietary fat to burn fat. Organic and grass-fed full fat cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese (yes, full fat, not skim), avocadoes, flax seeds, fish, and nuts are all great breakfast choices. See, this isn’t so difficult, as you can get fat and protein from some of the same sources.
Rev Your Engine
The most common reason that I hear for skipping breakfast, or for resisting incorporating breakfast, is that people are afraid that they’ll gain weight. They’re “fine” getting by on coffee and are “saving the calories for later.” Firstly, I don’t believe in counting calories. Ever.
Secondly, this reasoning couldn’t be further from the truth. After eight or so hours of sleep, your body needs to be refueled and eating is critical (“break the fast”). Otherwise, your body goes into a sort of famine state and metabolism comes to a screeching halt. You go about your day, running on fumes (and caffeine), while your body waits to get its fuel. No fuel, no fat loss.
Recent studies have shown that breakfast eaters are less likely to suffer from heart attacks and strokes. Once you see and feel the difference breakfast can make in your life, you’ll never be a two-meal eater again.
Quick and easy breakfasts:
Preparing a power-packed breakfast need not be tedious and time consuming and once you begin making it a part of your morning routine, I promise you’ll wonder how you ever made it through the morning on a belly full of coffee.
- Power smoothie, which can be prepared a number of ways and blended to taste. My favorite ingredients: kefir or yogurt (dairy or coconut), nut milk (almond or hazelnut), walnuts, dark leafy greens, berries, flax oil or ground flax seed, chia seeds, avocado, powdered protein (I prefer hemp protein over whey), cacao nibs (raw chocolate), half a banana, dab of honey (only needed if I’m out of bananas).
- Fruit, nut and cheese plate
- Egg prepared as desired and whole grain waffle with nut butter and drizzle of real maple syrup
- Frittata (egg casserole, chock full of in-season vegetables) can be made for Sunday morning brunch and then re-heated for the next several mornings
- Breakfast pizza – whole grain bread, ricotta or cottage cheese, basil, tomatoes, with drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
- Open-faced breakfast sandwich with whole grain bread or English muffin, organic egg, veggie sausage or organic meat, and cheese or avocado
- Whole grain toast with goat cheese, parsley, chives, and rosemary
- Whole grain toast with pesto, avocado, leafy greens, sliced tomato, and oregano
- Whole grain toast with nut butter, apple slices, walnuts and a drizzle of honey
- Whole grain toast with avocado, goat cheese, and anchovies
- Breakfast burrito on sprouted or whole grain tortilla with an egg and other healthy fillings of your choice, like onions, beans, peppers, and avocado (very easy to make ahead and freeze)
- Fish and dark leafy greens
- Mashed sweet potatoes, topped with roasted Brussels sprouts and pastured sausage
- Lox (smoked salmon) and organic cream cheese on whole grain English muffin with red onion slices and capers
- Hot, whole grain cereal with coconut milk, berries, and lots of nuts or swirls of nut butter – quinoa is our favorite, as it’s a grain (it’s actually a seed) that’s high in protein; also consider mixing in pureed pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg
- Open-faced omelet with leftover vegetables and a little cheese
- Grated potato with a bit of chopped onions and greens and other veggies of your choice
- Organic, pastured sausages, ham, or bacon with leftover smashed sweet potatoes and greens
- Last night’s leftovers
NOTE: Many people have a wheat/gluten, and/or dairy allergy or sensitivity. In the presence of any of these sensitivities, I recommend appropriate dairy/grain substitutions.
Jill Grunewald is a Minneapolis-based holistic nutrition and hormone coach and health and wellness writer.