Well this is a turnaround isn’t it? Breakfast is now not the most important meal according to this study! For so many years we have been told that we must have breakfast before starting our day and we have even been told that studies show how breakfast can help us lose weight, concentrate and stabilize our blood sugar. I am as guilty as many other professionals – I haven’t actually read these studies, just accepted the evidence for the most part.
In my defence, although I do read research reports, I make up my own mind about what is right for us and this is founded upon both my observations as a nurse and nutritionist and my usual way of looking at our diet and lifestyle against the back-drop of our evolutionary diet and lifestyle. There has been much research and speculation into what is right and wrong, but the bottom line is – we should do as our ancestors did. The only problem with this is that everyone has a different view of what they actually did! I have written a bit about this before so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that we ate primarily meat and some vegetation when it was available. This study shows precisely this point.
What on Earth is breakfast – or lunch, tea or dinner for that matter? These are labels we have given to eating times, for our convenience. These meal times are fitted in before, during and after we go to work/school/college, but they are actually convenient times when we must top up our nutrients. We need vast amounts of quality nutrients for every single bodily function you can think of – blinking your eyes and producing tears; making the enzymes needed for the digestion of food; maintaining the electrical activity needed to allow your heart to beat and your muscles to contract and so on. Everything your body does, it does not do by chance. You make it happen by eating foods that supply these minerals, vitamins, fats and more.
A while ago, I wrote a blog about hunger which you can find here. It is important that we stay in touch with our bodies and really hear the message. The first thing you should be reaching for in the morning is liquid, preferably water, tea or a herbal infusion. The body detoxifies itself over night and the toxins need washing away. This could be why some people are never hungry first thing – and some even feel queasy. Hunger kicks in when the detoxing has finished. Always drink about half an hour, before you eat “breakfast”. In fact staying hydrated is one way to prevent over-eating or eating for no good reason. Drink sufficient liquid to keep your urine pale yellow – not clear which means you are drinking too much, or amber which means you are not drinking enough.
What is breakfast for you? I can hear your thought processes –
cereal, toast, eggs, porridge..! But what I’m getting at is what is the meaning of the word? Its literal meaning is of course, breaking one’s fast and I believe that this is the point. Why should this meal be taken before going out if you are not hungry? This study suggests that breakfast could be skipped, but it too is assuming that “breakfast” is the meal you have before your day starts.
Breakfast is the meal that breaks your fast – whenever that is. Your body very cleverly prepares itself for a meal. Once you are adequately hydrated and your body has finished its clear-up, signalling can get underway and you consciously think about food. This prepares your digestive tract – you salivate and your stomach rumbles, both of which mean that the enzymes and other chemicals needed to digest food, are ready and waiting. Absolutely the worst time to eat is whilst stressed, because this preparation stage will be omitted and indigestion ensues.
There will be some people who wake feeling hungry. These are the people who eat very early evening, stay hydrated and don’t drink alcohol in the evening. In other words, there is less detoxifying to do so hunger is felt earlier. I know an aerobics teacher who is ravenous in the mornings and this is undoubtedly due to rapid usage of nutrients as well as early nights.
Remember that whenever you are ready to break your fast, you should provides what your body needs – essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats.
Some would argue carbohydrates in addition but since there are no essential carbohydrates, I don’t agree. However, the first nutrients in the list are the ones that your body is asking for and is prepared for, so make sure you provide these.
Many people will argue the time factors involved. No time in the morning for more than a piece of toast or no time to eat at ten o’clock when hunger hits. I’ve heard all the excuses and my answer is always the same – be prepared! If you cannot eat a good breakfast before leaving home, be prepared, as you will get hungry and you will eat something – as surely as day follows night. I am constantly amazed that work-places are completely geared for this – the coffee and doughnuts trolley materialises! There are also bakeries, sweet-shops and burger bars within close proximity. If you have a canteen at work, go and get yourself bacon and eggs!
There should be no hard and fast rules about what you eat or when as long as nutrients are supplied. If you had roasted meat for dinner the previous evening – take cold leftovers with salad or even cold vegetables with a nice creamy dressing. If you fancy an avocado to break your fast, accompany it with a few cherry tomatoes and a lump of Brie. Eggs from hens on pasture are possibly the best nutrition and the most convenient. Why not boil half a dozen and take two or three with you? Great with avocado, salad or cold asparagus. Try making a big frittata and taking a slice with you or make banana bread and take some of that. All of these suggestions will supply the necessary nutrients.
There is quite a bit of evidence that lengthening the time between your last meal of the day and the meal that breaks your fast the following morning helps with weight control and insulin sensitivity. I think it is a good idea anyway as it must emulate the eating patterns of our ancestors. Food would not have been available for “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner”. There may have been only one or two meals of meat or fish, with gaps occasionally filled by a few berries or nuts (in the autumn anyway) or roots, eggs, leaves and seeds. There were undoubtedly times of hunger but generally there would have been plenty of food to go around. The beauty of eating foods that we are genetically programmed for is that when properly nourished, we are less hungry.
Stop thinking of breakfast as such and instead, think of your first meal of the day as the time to supply all those nutrients that your body has told you it needs.