Breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day, right? It may not be as simple as that. Eating a nutritious meal after waking up can be very beneficial, but there is a dark side to breakfast if you aren’t doing it correctly. There is a right and wrong way to do breakfast, and with the start of a new year ahead of us, there’s no better time to learn!
A case for eating breakfast
Upon waking, your blood sugar is low. You have just undergone a period of fasting and your body has slowed its metabolism (or burning of calories) to conserve energy. When you eat breakfast, it sends the message that you no longer need to conserve energy and hang on to extra calories. Essentially you become a calorie “burner” instead of a calorie “saver” which helps shed fat. Many people think that skipping this meal will help them eat less calories per day, however, this is not always true. Breakfast has been shown to prevent overeating later in the day. Furthermore, studies show that even with a lower overall calories taken in, breakfast skippers have a higher BMI (or weight to height ratio) than breakfast eaters because their bodies tend to store more calories instead of burn them as talked about above. As a summary, here is why eating a good, nutritious breakfast should be your daily goal!
- Breakfast starts your metabolism which tells your body to burn (instead of save) calories
- Eating a healthy breakfast helps keep you from eating more calories later in the day.
- Glucose from food fuels the brain which helps improve focus at work or at school.
- Habitually eating a healthy breakfast helps people lose weight and keep weight off.
Breakfast eaters come closer to meeting their goals for fruit and vegetable intake, calcium intake, and fiber intake than people who skip it. It is prudent to replenish your blood sugar in the morning, but also supply your body with nutrients that can help support your metabolism and fuel your brain and muscles properly. That’s why WHAT you eat, is more important than just eating anything at all.
Where it all goes wrong…
Bagels, breakfast cereal, waffles, muffins, pancakes, and fruit juice… No wonder breakfast has gotten a bad rap! All of these foods are high in processed carbohydrates and lacking in the two essential breakfast nutrients: protein and fiber. Let’s talk the science behind it all. When a high carbohydrate breakfast is eaten, your body breaks down that carbohydrate into glucose which enters the bloodstream (at an alarmingly fast rate if all you ate was carbohydrate!) Glucose in the blood (also known as blood sugar) stimulates insulin. Insulin tells your body to remove the glucose and use it as fuel and store extra glucose as fat. When there is an abundance of glucose and little of anything else (say in a meal that contains a bagel, strawberry jam, and a glass of orange juice, mostly carbohydrates!) insulin pulls too much sugar from the blood and tells your body you didn’t get enough nutrition so you should eat again, sometimes only an hour after eating! This is a great explanation of why eating the RIGHT breakfast is so crucial!
Making it right…
Now let’s look at what happens if you eat a more balanced breakfast, for instance, a veggie and egg scramble with some peanut butter spread over whole grain toast. This is a great meal because it provides a source of protein (eggs and peanut butter) and fiber (vegetables and whole grain bread) which helps balance out your body’s response to the food. Instead of carbohydrate rushing into the bloodstream, protein and fiber mix with the contents of your stomach and interfere with carbohydrate absorption. Essentially, glucose from the lower-carbohydrate meal is slowly being pulled from the stomach and into the bloodstream at a nice steady rate, just enough to fuel the brain and muscles all morning long. Furthermore, the protein provides healthy amino acids which will make sure your body has the building blocks it needs to make important muscle tissue, chemical messengers, and neurotransmitters for optimal health. See why breakfast can be the most important meal of your day?
Think outside the “cereal box!”
Instead of pairing breakfast cereal with low fat milk (carb on carb) or sweetened yogurt with granola (carb on carb) build a better breakfast! The goal is to eat a breakfast which will provide both protein and fiber while limiting carbohydrate sources that are processed and of little nutritional value. Here is a little chart which can help you make better breakfast choices, below are some real world examples of how to combine these nutrients (protein and fiber) in delicious ways!
Build a better breakfast
Make a veggie scramble by sautéing vegetables in olive oil. In the same pan scramble your egg and serve with whole grain toast, or over some mashed sweet potato. Try adding a scoop of peanut butter to your morning oatmeal for extra protein! Top with apple slices and cinnamon for a delicious breakfast! Serve refried beans for breakfast by making up a plate of huevos rancheros or a veggie packed breakfast burrito! For a quick and simple breakfast, try a slice of toast topped with avocado and a soft boiled egg. If you are a fan of morning shakes, you can always make a smoothie with plenty of Greek yogurt and sweeten with frozen fruit! For more ideas, see the recipes “Sweet Potato Bowl” and “Curried Lentils and Eggs”. The right breakfast, one that contains both protein and fiber, should be top priority each morning and will help set a healthy pattern for the rest of the day!