Few people have bypassed the cautionary don’t-skip-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day-lecture. We’ve unwittingly gobbled up this rhetoric with our cereal and bagels without questioning much about when, how, why and by whom the enterprise of breakfast started in the first place. A little research reveals that in the 1940’s, nutritionists were hired by General Foods Corporation to make radio announcements advocating the importance of eating a hearty meal in the morning. And to this day, according to many doctors and dieticians, breakfast eaters have lower LDL cholesterol, a more balanced blood pressure, increased cognitive function and weigh less than breakfast skippers.
A morning meal, some researchers conclude, is essential for keeping our body clock running on time, and for kick starting our metabolism. In order to respond well to food intake, the body needs an initial trigger involving carbs responding to insulin. Breakfast is critical for this to happen, the argument goes. A full tummy is claimed to be the answer to getting energized, scoring better on the exam, losing weight, preventing disease and making better meal choices the rest of the day. Perfectly in line with the slogan delivered in pamphlets to grocery shoppers of the 1940’s: “Eat a Good Breakfast – Do a Better Job!”
It doesn’t take much investigation to uncover the sobering reality that the breakfast ‘affair’ as we know it is a venture that was established hand in hand with the launch of a range of breakfast cereal products by a company known formerly as General Foods and today as Kraft. Let’s think about that for a minute. The realization that we’ve been taking dietary advice from companies with a financial stake in what’s on our plate should be enough to warrant a deeper look into these decade-old breakfast catch lines.
Paul Freedman, editor of “Food: The History of Taste” claims there is no biological reason to eat 3 fixed meals per day. And I find it interesting that Romans considered one meal per day to be the ultimate way of eating. In “The Invention of the American Meal”, Abigail Carroll points out that Native Americans were accustomed to grazing on food throughout the day and didn’t have specific meal times. My point is, eating a fixed meal in the morning hasn’t always been a ‘thing’. And come to think of it, it’s not like it’s stated in the rule book of “how to be a human” that one should eat 3 times per day. Yes, it’s something we’ve become accustomed to to, but does that mean it’s optimal? And does it mean that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Suggesting to skip breakfast altogether is perhaps a bit audacious, but just hear me out.
When we sleep we are naturally not eating, so assuming we’ve had a full night’s rest we are in a fasted state when morning comes – heck, our first meal is even referred to as ‘break fast’. When we fast, our organs get to work on cleansing and repairing the body. This causes a cell rejuvenation process called autophagy – in which damaged proteins and other waste is burned. Upon waking, we are still in a fasted state, and get this: by restricting our caloric intake in the morning we can extend the fasting window, and thereby increase the benefits of autophagy – which in the long run prevents disease such as cancer and IBS. So, from a biological point of view, we’re designed to cleanse in the morning. And what supports cleansing? Drinking lots of fluids such as green juice, celery juice, coconut water or citrus juice.
On the contrary - what nullifies the benefit of cleansing and fasting? Eating a large meal of fats, carbs and protein slows your metabolism. And the first time in the day that you introduce carbs, fats and protein is the moment when the focus of your body shifts from burning waste to digesting food. In other words, it stops detoxing and cleansing. Just to ensure you were listening – it’s not just a myth that you need to eat breakfast to kick start your metabolism in the morning. It also seems that by eating a big breakfast we are halting our body’s built-in detox mechanisms. UNLESS… we eat foods that are cleansing and support detoxing (check out my list of clean breakfast suggestions).
And what about the claim that eating breakfast supports our cognitive ability? When you eat a heavy meal in the morning your body needs to use a lot of energy to digest.
By skipping carbs, proteins and fats your body can remain more alert, sharp and focused.
If weight loss is your goal – a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition debunks the myth that having breakfast is required for weight loss success. And another one – conducted at Cornell University shows that omitting breakfast is the way to lose weight.
What about the theory that a big breakfast sets you up for better meal choices for the rest of the day? Well, to that I say – eating refined carbohydrates raises blood-sugar levels and causes an insulin surge that drives blood sugar down and resulting in rebound hunger. And the first meal also sets the tone for the rest of the day. Have you ever noticed that if you start the day with a low quality meal – you’re more likely to return to the similar low quality treats later the same day? Me? My morning is a cleansing occasion, designated for filling up on liquids such as lemon water, green vegetable juice, celery juice and/or a smoothie. Most people don’t eat enough leafy greens. The quickest and most efficient way to get lots of leafy greens into your diet is by juicing or blending. It’s a great way of increasing absorption of minerals and vitamins while requiring very little energy from the digestive system. You’ll get loads of nutrition in a glass of green juice versus a standard breakfast. One of my favorite vitamin bombs is a blended smoothie with greens, herbs, berries, fruits and superfoods (check out the recipe here).
Green leafy vegetable juices and superfood smoothies hydrate, heal, boost immunity, provide energy and lead to weight loss. Starting with nutrient dense liquids is
also a way to help you get more portions of fruits and veggies into your daily routine.
Does that mean breakfast-skipping for everyone? If your body requests more sustenance in the morning, skipping breakfast might not be for you. But I still advocate eating as wholesomely as possible and a meal primed with nutrition. If there was ever a time to eat optimally it would be when breaking your fast first thing in the morning. And the crucial thing that most of us would benefit from is to delay our intake of fat, carbs and protein and give our organs a chance to catch up on purifying and cleansing first. In this day and age there is one thing that we’re all in need of and very few are getting enough of; and that is detox.
FIVE CLEAN BREAKFAST IDEAS
· Fruit salad with a sprinkle of bee pollen or spirulina
· Smoothie bowl with home made granola or muesli
· Steamed veggies – who says you can’t eat veggies for breakfast?
· Overnight oats with fresh berries
· Porridge, try with buckwheat, quinoa or millet.
Shanti Maria Allen
Recipe developer and author