Health Matters…Breakfast – to eat or not to eat

            When people discuss the topic of weight control or the topic of good nutrition, this question always comes up. “Should I eat breakfast or just skip breakfast? My morning is always so busy anyway. And I hardly have time to get my shower, get dressed, and get out the door. I don’t have time to fix a decent meal. Besides, I’m not hungry in the morning.”

            This sounds like the story of a man going on a long road trip. On the specified day, he dashed out of his house, through his suitcases in the car, and drove off in a mad rush. A half-hour later, his car began to sputter; then the engine died. He was out of gas. Fortunately, he was in front of a gas station. He quickly put in a gallon of gas and dashed off down the road. In about thirty minutes the same situation repeated itself. He was out of gas again. Again, he was in front of a gas station. Again, he quickly put in a gallon of gas and dashed off down the road. Not surprisingly, the same situation occurred again. And again. What advice do you think you would give this man? Of course! Fill up the car before going on a long trip.

            Many people do the same thing each morning. They choose to put no energy in their own engine or only put in something sweet that gives a rapid rise to their blood sugar level, too high and too quickly. And they add caffeine which revs the engine but supplies NO energy. (Caffeine is not a source of energy. Energy comes from calories. Caffeine has no calories. And, no – the drinks you can buy are NOT energy drinks.)

            Not surprising, in about an hour the rapid rise in blood sugar is followed by a rapid fall in blood sugar and the washed-out, let-down feeling of hunger. Another dose of a high-sugary snack and caffeine is followed by a rush of alertness and in an hour by another crash of the ability to think and to do.

            The first meal of the day is called break-fast for a reason. You have been “fasting” during the night – which is a good idea, to allow the digestive system and other parts of the body to “rest” and recovery from the activity of the day. But now, at the beginning of the day, like the man in the story, it’s time to “gas up the car” and prepare for the day’s activities.

            The old saying is: “Eat breakfast like a king; eat lunch like a prince; eat supper like a pauper.” What does breakfast like a king look like?

            The most important meal of the day needs to have all the essential nutrients to give a significant boost to the start of the day. The first of these nutrients is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the primary source of calories, not fats, and certainly not protein. Fats are metabolized inefficiently; they are meant to form cell walls, grow nerve systems, and be carriers of blood items that are not water soluble. Protein is even more inefficient as an energy source. Proteins – and their components, the amino acids – are meant to be building blocks and messenger compounds. Chewing them up for energy requires throwing away the nitrogen attached to every amino acid, which taxes the body – especially the kidneys – to eliminate the nitrogen. Carbohydrates are meant to be the primary source of energy.

But don’t use the simple sugars that dash from the mouth to the blood stream, causing a rush of energy and a crash one hour later – requiring another rush. Complex carbohydrates – found in whole grains, plus veggies, seeds, and nuts – are broken down more slowly and release sugar into the blood like energy time capsules over a longer time period – no rush and crash, just a steady stream.

To slow the breakdown and absorption of sugars in the gut, add some fats (polyunsaturated fats) and protein to the breakfast mix. Where can we get these? From the same whole grains, nuts, and seeds. To slow the sugar absorption even more – add fiber, which can come from whole grains, but primarily comes from legumes, fruits and veggies. Suddenly, our breakfast became a meal, didn’t it?

People don’t usually think of beans – legumes – as breakfast food (the English do). But many creative ways are available, the simplest being adding tofu. Tofu brings the fiber and the protein from the bean, but being more versatile than most beans.

But we are still missing essential nutrients from our breakfast for the king – vitamins and minerals. The B vitamins are especially available in the whole grains, nuts, and seeds. But the other vitamins are more readily available in fruits which make any breakfast more attractive by their color. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the digestive process and for energy production – especially the minerals magnesium, zinc, and cobalt. (Don’t worry about the absorption of fruit sugar. The whole grain fat, protein, and fiber content slow this down also.)

But the colorful fruits also bring another essential nutrient category – phytochemicals, the nutrients needed in small but essential quantities. These are the antioxidants that guard against oxidative inflammation – diseases of the arteries, bowel, cancer, infections, and autoimmune problems.

Look for the breakfast meal plans and recipes that include most or all these food groups: whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies, and lean protein sources. And first thing in the morning, break your fast – and eat like a king.

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