Power Breakfast -- Healthy Breakfast at the Root of a Healthy Day
I seem to have a daily fight with my teenage daughter about eating a good breakfast. She goes for the carbs, and I push the protein. However, if you don't like eggs, the remaining standard breakfast fare includes dairy products (allergenic for many) or bacon and other breakfast meats. If breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, shouldn't we select what we eat more carefully? And what exactly are the proven benefits of eating breakfast in the first place?
"There's an old saying that goes 'Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,'" said nutritionist and weight-loss coach Jonny Bowden, CNS. "But most of us do the opposite." According to Bowden, this is exactly the wrong way to eat if we're trying to lose weight. It also works against us if we're trying to keep our energy up during the day and our performance level high. "Remember, you've just completed eight hours without food," he told me. "You're literally breaking a fast. Your body is craving nourishment, and your brain needs glucose to function at its best. Skipping breakfast is one of the worst possible things you can do. You set yourself up for disaster in a number of different ways later in the day."
Indeed, the research points that way. Between 35% and 40% of all Americans skip breakfast, and many kids leave for school without it. The implications are dramatic, both physically and mentally (more on that in a moment). "People who skip breakfast are more than four times as likely to be obese than people who eat something in the morning," Bowden informed me.
Then there's performance. "Numerous studies over the years have shown that skipping breakfast impacts the behavior and mental performance of school kids," Bowden said. "Kids who eat breakfast have better memory, and higher math and reading scores. And kids who are hungry have a large number of behavior problems, including fighting, stealing, having difficulty with teachers and not acknowledging rules."
Additionally, people who eat breakfast are far more likely to get a healthy intake of vitamins and minerals than those who don't. In one study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found that people who ate a hearty breakfast containing more than one-quarter of their daily calories had a higher intake of essential vitamins and minerals and lower serum cholesterol levels to boot. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Getting adequate and sufficient nutrients when your body needs them is the best way to maintain optimal body function.
THE BEST BREAKFAST
So what constitutes a good breakfast? Is it the high-carb, low-fat "Breakfast of Champions" that was so in vogue several decades ago? Or is it a plate piled high with meat and bacon minus the bread and potatoes à la "Robert Atkins"?
"Higher protein breakfasts translate into a more sustained level of energy throughout the morning and possibly the day," Bowden told me. "Protein fills you up longer, and you're less likely to have midmorning cravings. You're also less likely to overeat at lunch." And higher protein at breakfast may increase metabolism, helping you to maintain a healthy weight. "In one study, a high-protein breakfast increased the metabolism of healthy young women by a shocking 100%," Bowden said.
"There are definite advantages to higher protein intakes in the morning," Bowden continued, "but that doesn't mean 10,000 calories of bacon."
Eggs. "I think eggs are one of nature's perfect food sources," he told me. "They are loaded with protein and other nutrients such as phosphatidyl choline for the brain and heart." A Bowden breakfast favorite: Scramble some eggs with spinach and sliced apples in some coconut oil, and season with turmeric and lemon pepper. "It's loaded with protein and nutrients for the eyes, like lutein and zeaxanthin," he explained. "Plus the turmeric is one of nature's great anti-inflammatories." (Note: Bowden strongly recommends free-range eggs -- from hens that had access to the outdoors where they could run around and eat more natural food, which changes the fat content and nutrition of their meat and eggs.)
Yogurt that contains active cultures. "One of my favorite quick breakfasts is yogurt with nuts and red or purple grapes," Bowden said. "I always use goat's or sheep's milk yogurt because it's less likely to have hormones in it and has a better nutrient balance. Then I sprinkle on some walnuts or almonds or pecans."
Peanut butter and banana sandwich. "If you're someone who can tolerate grains," said Bowden, "buy a good whole-grain bread, preferably sprouted grain, take one slice and make a 'half sandwich' using natural, unsweetened peanut or almond butter, a banana and, if you like, a dollop of yogurt on top."
Shakes and Smoothies. "You can make a nutritious shake using water, protein mixes and frozen fruit and/or berries, with a little cranberry or pomegranate juice. Or almond or rice milk. Throw in a handful of raw oats for texture -- it tastes much better than it sounds. Experiment. Peanut butter is another great add-in."
Muesli or granola cereal. Add nuts, berries or sliced apples, and flaked coconut. You can also use raw cold-pressed honey or blackstrap molasses if you like."