One popular New Year’s resolution is to “Eat Well.” It’s a good one, whether the motivation stems from a desire to lose weight, feel better, or just improve quality of life. And a good place to start is with breakfast – after all, it’s the most important meal of the day. Or is it?
Before getting into what can be done to improve your diet, consider that breakfast refers to “BREAKing” the “FASTing” period of the last meal of the prior day. This meal is usually consumed in the morning, but if your first meal of the day is at noon, your breakfast may be another person’s lunch!
Meal timing is an important issue, especially with the current interest in intermittent fasting. It is often assumed that if you are on an intermittent fasting program you have to skip your morning meal, but it’s not true. You could consume a healthy breakfast and still be following an intermittent fasting program.
From a health perspective, it’s true that there are a many of studies, conducted not just by US researchers but also by those worldwide, showing a link between and skipping breakfast and obesity or other health-related issues. For example, a study published in Circulation in 2013 that followed 26,902 men over 16 years concluded that consuming breakfast was associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease. That said, there are other studies that showed no relationship between fat gain and skipping breakfast. What should we believe?
The key in assessing the value of these studies is not to look at just when that first meal is consumed, but what that first meal consists of. And just because millions of American’s start their day with cereal or pancakes, those from other countries might scratch their heads looking at the typical breakfast offerings at an IHOP or Denny’s. For example, if you lived in Korea you may have soup for breakfast; if you lived in Europe you might start the day with fruit, jam, and a pastry; and if Finland is your home you might wake up to tea and sandwiches.
How healthy is your breakfast? Let’s take a look at typical American breakfast choices of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and orange juice. Continual consumption of eggs may cause food allergies, bacon is often heavily processed with food preservatives, commercial pancakes often contain gluten which can be hard on the gastrointestinal and immune systems, and many orange juice drinks contain high amounts of refined sugar that play havoc with your blood sugar. Then there’s cereal.
Cereals that contain a high amount of refined sugar can cause a quick spike in insulin that stops lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat for energy from body stores. High insulin levels over long periods can make the body insulin resistant and could lead to diabetes. It’s worst if you consume these cereals the first thing in the morning as it will set yourself up for a day of unnatural fatigue and unhealthy eating. More specifically, processed sugar can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a sudden and prolonged drop that will create a cycle of sugar cravings throughout the day.
For an athlete who trains in the morning before eating, a good post-workout breakfast is especially important. This meal should contain not just protein to stimulate protein synthesis, but also healthy fats and carbs. The carbs are needed to restore glycogen levels in the liver and muscles, and the fats will reduce inflammation and suppress the appetite. On this last point, in nature protein and fat are found together in foods, so consuming just a whey protein drink without fats to aid with digestion may do you more harm than good by causing issues with your gut.
What are examples of a good breakfast? It’s a hard question to answer as we are all individuals with different tastes and food tolerances. A good start for some might be 3 ounces of smoked salmon with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes; or a 6-ounce steak with pecan nuts and blueberries; or, for those with a hearty appetite, how about a 4-egg omelet (with onions, pepper, tomato, mushrooms), a pink grapefruit, and a tablespoon of almond butter on spelt bread? None of these menus may appeal to you, but the idea is to start thinking about consuming high-quality program, healthy fats and carbs, and portions that suit your goals and energy levels. For example, a distance runner might do better with a breakfast high in carbs whereas a diabetic might need to focus on only consuming low glycemic carbs in moderation.
Another option, which is great for a New Year’s resolution because it’s easy to implement, is to focus on consuming a high quality protein source and nuts or seeds. This food combination fights off fatigue, increases mental acuity, and provides prolonged satiety to suppress the appetite. The key is blood sugar control, as the protein allows for a slow and steady rise in blood sugar, and the nut/seeds provide healthy fats that allow the blood sugar to remain stable for an extended period. Here is an example of a five-day rotation of this type of breakfast:
1-2 buffalo meat patties
1 handful of macadamia nuts
1 large venison steak
1 handful of cashew nuts
1-2 lean turkey burgers
1 handful of almonds
2 lean ground beef patties
1 handful of Brazil nuts
2 chicken breasts
1 handful of hazelnuts
Consider these ideas to help you design the perfect breakfast for you, then take your nutrition knowledge to the next level by browsing the archive section of our website. You are what you eat, so start the New Year by eating smart!