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Breakfast – like a king or a pauper?

In Community and Relationship, Health and Nutrition by Dr Casey ConroyLeave a Comment

Breakfast – Some people feel they need a big breakfast in order to take on the day.

Some eat it out of the belief that it “gets your metabolism going”. After all, as the mantra goes, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

The overwhelming majority of my patients could take it or leave it. Some of them downright loathe eating a full breakfast in the morning, reporting that it makes them feel heavy and tired, or they’re just not that hungry at 7 o’clock in the morning.

One of the most common problems in the modern Western lifestyle is eating by the clock

Mealtimes are dictated by our busy work schedules and school timetables. We teach our digestive systems to accept meals even when we’re not hungry, because we may not get a meal break when we are actually hungry. We override the biorhythms that would normally control appetite. Often we eat too quickly in the meal breaks we are given, a behaviour that is strongly associated with obesity.

Eating to a schedule, particularly eating breakfast when you’re not hungry, reduces the opportunity for hunger and satiety signals to occur. Food isn’t digested as efficiently as food eaten when we are truly hungry and ready for it. This can give rise to indigestion and gut disorders.

Traditional breakfasts

If we go back even a few hundred years, people had to work first and eat second. Before refrigeration and instant oats, people needed to hunt, pick, or prepare their food from scratch. The fast broken by breakfast was in the order of 15 hours, which from a metabolic point of view constitutes a true fast (1). Today we may be eating as late as 10 o’clock at night (pre-bedtime snacks) and as early as six or seven in the morning. Many people in the West never experience a true fast, or even the sensation of hunger.

According to Ayurveda and other traditional health sciences, the morning is the time for elimination, which occurs after your body has spent the night detoxifying.

In the chi cycles of TCM, the hours between 5 and 7am are also the best time to exercise.

Since morning is the time when yoga asana is traditionally practised, yogis keep the stomach empty or mostly empty until their practice is completed. Therefore, for many yogis, any eating during the early part of the day (up until 9-10am) is light so as not to hinder the natural detoxification process the body has been working at overnight, a process that continues well into the morning.

Of course, this wisdom flies in the face of modern recommendations that “breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day”. When I was a student dietitian this became a mantra of sorts to recite to our patients! Breakfast like a king, lunch like a peasant, and dine like a pauper.

Paradoxically, what I’ve found in clinical practice is that for many people, a big breakfast weighs them down and shunts energy towards digestion at a time when their minds and bodies should be most active. For many of us, eating breakfast before work or school is a habit we have grown accustomed to yet may not always serve us in experiencing optimal levels of vitality.

The biochemistry of breakfast

In the West, we rarely fast. Breakfast is meant to be the breaking of an overnight fast that is crucial to reduce the levels of insulin in our blood, the hormone that allows blood sugar to enter cells after a meal has been digested. During that fast, our insulin levels are meant to have dropped, and stayed low until all the food is absorbed from the stomach, and has entered and left the blood, and has then been distributed to the liver, fat, and muscle cells.

During a good overnight fast, our fat cells, liver cells and muscle cells have minimal exposure to insulin, thus maintaining their insulin sensitivity. Having too frequent meals, or too short a gap between dinner and breakfast, can lead to insulin resistance and a fatty liver (1). Insulin resistance is the result of continuously high levels of circulating insulin, and is one of the most common health issues in our culture.

Many of my clients eat six small meals a day

This isn’t because they’re hungry, but because they were told by some health or fitness professional to do so in order to “keep their metabolism up”. Unless they’re hungry for each of those six meals, I doubt they would be doing their liver or abdominal fat stores any favours.

Then there’s DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone we produce in response to sunlight that increases our performance. It’s even available as a medication, and is a banned drug in Olympic athletes as it’s deemed to give them an unfair advantage.

When we eat our first meal of the day, our levels of glucocorticoids go up and DHEA goes down. Some research suggests that, the longer we delay breakfast, the more we prolong the peak of DHEA (2), and the better we are able to ‘power on’ in the morning!

In school children we may find remnants of a more intuitive way of eating

This happens before the practice of eating to a schedule is truly cemented into their brains and digestive systems. Many parents complain of having to force their kids to eat breakfast, which they’ll usually eat if you tantalise them with Froot Loops or cereals with toys in the packet. Come the weekend or school holidays, and it may not be until 10 or 11 o’clock that children appear in the kitchen claiming to be hungry. There is even scientific evidence suggesting that normal children are unaffected or perform better without breakfast (3).

I wonder what would happen if we waited until our children were truly hungry, and then had healthy whole foods to offer to them?

Different ways to start your day

All this talk of soaring insulin levels and diving DHEA may deter you from eating breakfast, but the point of this article is merely to get you thinking rather than eating at certain intervals out of conditioning or a belief it is good for you. We are all different, and while some people will be relieved to hear that they don’t have to force a big brekkie down, others will feel attached to breakfast and not want to give it up!

Depending on what your body is accustomed to and the strength of vital force in your system, some people feel comfortable eating very lightly until around noon, while others require time to transition away from the usual breakfast fare of dense processed cereals, dehydrated toast, sugary spreads and heavy cooked foods. Some genuinely need a big breakfast, especially if they eat a light dinner the night before or are in need of some serious “grounding”.

For these reasons, I’ve provided some breakfast options that suit all constitutions and people, whether you’re a breakfast lover or more a dinner devotee

The following breakfast recipes are categorised as light or hearty, from fresh vegetable juices and green smoothies to grounding vitality-filled full breakfast options.

As you start eating according to appetite and you familiarise yourself with your natural body clock, you may well find that eating lighter in the morning or only when hunger first arises, confers incredible energy, enhanced mental focus and a feeling of lightness that places you in the best of moods!

Many people argue that in our busy lives it’s unpractical to “eat when hungry”. The problem is often in our attitude and mindset. I have clients who take a green smoothie or rolled oats to the office and cook and eat them at morning tea when they’re hungry. Others go to work earlier, do half a morning’s work, and then go out for breakfast.

LIGHT breakfast options

For diehard yogis, lovers of simple foods, and those used to eating lighter in the morning, green smoothies, raw soups and fruit are fantastic breakfast options. The following recipes serve 1 to 2 people. Fresh vegetable juices are also a wonderful option and are my breakfast of choice during summer or when I feel like I need a gentle cleanse.

Basic Green Smoothie

Blend ½ a whole lemon (skin and seeds removed), 2 cups of leafy greens, 1 large frozen banana, and 2-3 cups water in a high-powered blender until smooth. Pour into a portable bottle and drink throughout the morning as hunger naturally arises. The lemon cuts through the strong green taste of the greens and adds a zingy zest. Experiment with different seasonal greens – spinach, choy sum and other Asian greens, kale, parsley, cos lettuce. Enjoy the spring in your step and let the zing of this smoothie replace your morning wake up coffee!

Blue Beauty

Blend 1 banana, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, a handful of frozen blueberries, ½ teaspoon spirulina, 5 leaves of kale (stems removed) and 2 cups water in a high-powered blender until smooth. Chia and spirulina provide protein, soluble fibre and omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids for smooth, luscious skin and seamless digestion.

Green Tara Smoothie

Blend 1 frozen banana, 1 mango, 5 leaves kale (stems removed), 100g baby spinach, juice of 1 organic lime, seeds removed, and 2 cups water in a high-powered blender until smooth.

Gritty Grin

Take 1 small frozen banana, 1 cup frozen organic mixed berries, 1-2 cups kale or baby spinach, 1-2 tablespoons of organic coconut cream, 1 tablespoon raw nut butter (I love almond, brazil nut, cashew or ABC butter), 1 teaspoon raw cacao nibs or raw cacao powder, 1 teaspoon organic schisandra berry powder, stevia to taste, and water or coconut water and blend until smooth.

Pure Love

Same as above but substitute some or all of the coconut cream for a ripe avocado, remove the cacao nibs, and add 1-2 drops therapeutic food grade orange essential oil. Bliss!

Protein & Omega Hit of Summer

Blend 20 to 30 grams of organic brown rice-based protein powder with a teaspoon of flaxseed oil. Add chopped apple, chopped pear or a handful of berries, almond milk or water plus a few ice cubes.

Vanilla Dream

Blend 1 cup oat milk with a handful of raw cashews with half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, and one banana for a potassium-rich and creamy smoothie.

Raw Sunshine Soup

Blend 1 cup organic alfalfa sprouts, 4 organic dates, 2 cups fresh pineapple, 3 leaves fresh kale, removed from stem, and 1–2 tablespoons packed fresh mint, until very smooth. You may want to blend in a couple of ice cubes as well so that the mixture does not heat up while blending. This amount serves 2-3 and is best when served immediately, but it will last in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Russian Power Soup

Blend 1 cup organic sunflower sprouts, 2 cups fresh strawberries, 1 tablespoon raw honey or agave nectar, or stevia to sweeten. Add 1 head cos lettuce, and ¼ medium beetroot (optional for a deep red colour for the soup), until very smooth. Raw soups can be enjoyed for breakfast, as well as ten to fifteen minutes before a meal or as a snack. They are best on an empty stomach.

Tropical Cyclone Salad

Green salad for breakfast? Crazier things have happened! In a bowl, place 100g baby spinach and a handful of alfalfa sprouts, then add the following peeled and chopped fruits: ¼ pineapple, 1 mango, 1 kiwifruit, 1 banana, small bunch black grapes, 4 fresh or canned lychees, and the pulp of 2 passionfruit. Toss gently to combine and serve. You will never look at fruit salad the same way again!

HEARTY breakfast options

For those among us who are transitioning from boxed cereals with milk, or bacon and eggs for breakfast, or who just need something more substantial as they observe their body clock and discover new tastes!

Heaven on Toast

Toast 2 thin slices of Essene sprouted grain bread or Sol sourdough bread. Add a thin layer of organic miso paste, a smattering of fresh avocado, and any other vegetables you like. Protein-packed sprouts, tomato, baby spinach, cucumber, and sweet capsicum are wonderful options!

Coconut Yoghurt Granola

Combine homemade or store-bought organic coconut yoghurt with fresh fruit and sprinkle with slivered almonds and a healthy oat, buckwheat-based or raw granola.

Real Bircher Muesli

Soak overnight 3 tablespoons of whole oats or raw buckwheat in filtered water. Next morning add 1 teaspoon of skin-nourishing coconut oil, an apple or pear (chopped or grated) and a handful of fresh or frozen berries. Sweeten with agave nectar or stevia if desired.

F*%k Wheat Porridge

Cook steel-cut oats, buckwheat, or quinoa in water with a miniscule amount of salt to taste. Top with grated apple, banana or fresh or antioxidant-packed blueberries. Sprinkle with cinnamon, slivered almonds, and add a touch of coconut cream if you like.

Spanish Omelette

Whip 2-3 organic eggs together with grated carrot, chopped parsley, onion, capsicum, broccoli, and any other vegetables you have on hand. Fry in a cast iron pan. Add sea salt and pepper to taste, and if you like a little organic goat’s feta. Enjoy with a slice of sourdough or gluten-free toast spread with organic butter or avocado. Eat to appetite, eat slowly, and enjoy!

References

1.     Dr. Carole Hungerford, ‘Good Health in the 21st Century – a Family Doctor’s Unconventional Guide’, 2012.

2.     Ray Kearney, ‘Ageing Diet, Melatonin, DHEA’ lecture given at Australasian College of Nutritional and environmental Medicine, Sydney, 1999.

3.     ‘Why a fruit breakfast’, Natural Health, April-May 1994, pp. 2-3, quoting The Lancet, October 1987.

 

About the author
Dr Casey Conroy

Dr Casey Conroy

Casey Conroy, MNutrDiet, BVSc, is a holistic dietitian and nutritionist, naturopath in training and yoga teacher who specialises in women's health, hormones, and the Health At Every Size approach to weight and body concern. She is the founder of Funky Forest Health & Wellbeing on the Gold Coast, and she loves chocolate and any yoga involving an eye pillow..

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