Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and before I changed my diet I used to LOVE my standard UK breakfasts; porridge with honey, shreddies, croissant or low-fat muffin when on the go…. or toast smothered in soy margarine and jams/honey! I really thought these were healthy options! I’ve now learned why these are not healthy options and below are just some of these reasons:
- Empty calories. These foods are typically really high in calories but are not very filling. Let’s use a muffin as an example, it can be whatever flavour you like! The muffin contains 200-300+ calories mostly carbohydrate. The muffin calories are like pure sugar to your digestive system. It’s like putting kindling on a fire, they burn quickly and if the energy is not used immediately it will be turned to fat and stored. Now, anyone who has been on a running machine, rower or gym bike knows how much 300 calories is in terms of effort. As most of us eat breakfast and then sit in the car/train/tube/bus/chair, it is unlikely we will burn those calories within 30minutes of eating that muffin! This applies to ALL grain based cereals and bread, no matter how much whole grain and fibre they claim to contain – it is still fast burning. Even Gluten free versions are typically as high in empty calories as their non-gluten counterparts.
- Grain based. There are many reasons why grains and gluten are negative for our health. Nora Gedgaudas (author of primal body-primal mind) recently stated in a podcast that she believes every human on the planet is incapable of digesting wheat. It will not necessarily show in obvious to see digestive symptoms (gas, bloating, headaches, constipation/diarrhoea etc) but will manifest itself later in life as cancer/disease/Alzheimer’s/autoimmune issues. There is also something in grains that prevents our brain from triggering the satiety response. They are addictive and we always want more and never feel fully satisfied. So between the empty calorie, addictive quality and the risk of long term degenerative issues it is best to just avoid grains completely or as much as is possible.
- Lack nutrients – the issue with these processed breakfast options is compounded by the lack of vitamins and minerals in these food choices. They are typically grown in chemically sprayed fields in soil that was long ago depleted of all its nutrients. They are sometimes so processed (white flour for example) that all nutrients have been stripped out completely. These food choices are not giving your body the vital micro-nutrients it needs which is one reason why they never quite satisfy and you are left feeling like you still need something else. Cereal, flour and dairy companies fortify their products with artificial vitamins (think milk with added Vitamin D or flour fortified with iron). Unfortunately this is not the same as when vitamins and minerals are consumed in a whole food form that our digestive system can recognise, process and utilise.
- Contain vegetable oils. Fry-ups, muffins/pastries will undoubtedly contain a host of vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil. The toast is likely covered in margarine/maybe a processed peanut butter/chocolate spread. These vegetable fats and oils are linked to heart disease and early death and despite conventional wisdom and the government food plans pipping them as healthier than animal based fats they are not! This includes the cold pressed rapeseed oil, all margarines including the soy and dairy free versions. They are highly unstable and easily turn rancid (meaning they have been oxidised and turned toxic) and rather than seeing it as a food, our body sees it as a toxin. Our body needs healthy fats as part of our diet, that is why some fats are called essential fatty acids – it is essential that we eat them as we cannot make them ourselves. If we eat rancid vegetable oils, our body is tricked into using them as they would good fatty acids. Fats are a major building block of each and every cell but these fake toxic fats makes our cells hard rather than soft and pliable. This hardening of our cells in our arteries and heart can have severe consequences in terms of heart disease. It can literally take years for your body to fully remove these bad fats after you stop eating them.
- Contain poor quality animal produce. From the milk in the cereal to the meat in the fry-up, it is unlikely that they have come from animals that have been well looked after, fed a natural diet of chemical free grass and been free to roam and do what animals do. If the animal is sick because of stressful living conditions, poor diet, use of antibiotics and hormones then what are the chances that the produce from it is going to be free from these ailments? Would you eat a rotten tomato or apple? No! Processed meats found in breakfasts (sausage, bacon, hams) can contain nitrates as a preservative along with ingredients such as wheat, sugar and other chemical preservatives and flavour enhancers. Organic, pasture raised animal produce is full of healthy (omega 3) fats and is free of hormones and anti-biotics. The animals are much more likely to have been well looked after, kept in natural living conditions making it a more ethical, humane farming practice. Look for organic (ideally pasture raised) gluten free sausages and nitrate free bacon for a healthier alternative.
- Imbalances in macro-nutrients. Our carb/fat/protein should be around 40/30/30 in terms of calories throughout a day. Some people do better splitting it throughout the day differently (for example less protein at night) but generally it is a good starting point to aim for each meal to have these proportions until you have experimented and worked out your best combination. The majority of these breakfast options are 90% plus simple carbohydrate with little protein and zero healthy fats. One impact is that we are then playing catch up with our other meals putting more pressure on them to consume the essential protein and fats we need to be healthy. The high simple carbohydrate overload first thing sets us up for a mid morning crash when we need that extra coffee and snack to get us through to lunch (remember the kindling analogy). A more balanced breakfast
So what does a good breakfast look like? The carbs we eat should be predominantly from vegetables, a mix of cooked and raw as well as some low glycemic fruit (think blueberries/strawberries and not pineapple/mango). The fat should be saturated healthy fats such as those found in pasture raised meats/dairy, coconut oil, butter, avocados, nuts and seeds. Healthy fats trigger our satiety response meaning they fill us up and keep us full for a long time (ever ate more than one avocado? ever ate more than one packet of crisps??) The protein should be of high quality meaning either from pasture raised animals (meat, eggs, dairy) or from properly prepared nuts and organic fermented soy (if you are vegetarian/vegan). Going back to the 200-300calorie muffin example, a nutrient dense alternative of healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates acts like a slow steady burning log keeping us full until lunch. The calories are released slowly and as such match our activity level and do not get stored as fat!
Some options could be:
- Some nuts & seeds mixed with some desiccated coconut (aka nuttola!), dried fruit or berries and topped with a whole milk live yoghurt (preferably organic, pasture raised source) or milk kefir or whole raw milk from grass fed cows or coconut milk/yoghurt or almond milk.
- Pancakes – at their simplest can be one egg and one small banana processed together then fried like a pancake and topped with some berries. Could also be made with coconut four, tigernut flour (not a nut!) such as this recipe here or here
- Fried nitrate free bacon and egg (pasture raised of course) with some lightly fried veggies (celery, leek, celeriac) as shown in pic below or mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, whatever you fancy! Cook with butter, coconut oil or ghee. Don’t hold back on the veg – when you remove the bread and hash browns from a fry up and have the right proportion of protein & fat there is plenty of room on your plate for veg!
- Avocado and boiled/fried egg with some raw spinach or other veggie
- A banana with some almond butter (check ingredients and pick an almond butter that only contains almonds!)
- No oat porridge – process some nuts and seeds until relatively fine (bit not as fine as flour) then mix with some milk (dairy/coconut/almond) until a porridge like consistency is made. Add cinnamon, apple or other to taste. Gently heat and then add a bit or raw honey or berries or banana to serve. This is very filling so don’t overdo the portion! Here is a version from Against all Grain.
- Homemade energy bars are a great on the go breakfast – google paleo energy bars for ideas but be mindful of the macronutrient balance as some can be high sugar/carb despite being paleo!
So what are you planning to eat tomorrow morning??