What’s for Breakfast?

            When your blood sugar begins to fall, your body will demand food.  For some, willpower can delay fulfilling that urge.  Unfortunately, willpower only last so long when up against a relentless survival urge.  If tired or stressed, expect willpower to lose. For a woman in her premenstrual week, hormones can also magnify cravings.

            While our craving for food will always be driven by physical needs, these cravings do not have to be accentuated beyond what is actually needed for energy and good health to function.  The key to attaining this natural level of craving is a lifestyle that eliminates highly addictive foods, reduces stress, provides ample physical activity, adequate sleep, and adequate social connections.

            Winning over the power of excessive cravings is much like winning at almost any endeavor in life.  If you can make your first move of the day a win, you get a boost that helps you go for the next win with a spring in your step.  For controlling cravings, nothing beats starting the day with a winning breakfast.

            Studies have shown that people beginning breakfast with the wrong types of foods and people skipping breakfast have the greatest difficulty attaining vitality and controlling weight.  Often, skipping breakfast sets us up for cravings later in the morning with a tendency to pick up low-quality food on the run. Of course, the typical low fiber/calorie dense breakfast has two downsides. Either we eat till satisfied which assure we have eaten too many calories or we stop before feeling full and spend the morning resisting the urge to eat more.

            Aside from damage done to the arteries, a traditional bacon and egg breakfast with orange juice and toast is unlikely to satisfy a person that does sedentary work.  Without adequate fiber, these foods fail to provide an evenly paced rate of glucose release.  With orange juice and the typical baked goods (from white flour) acting like rocket fuel, a spike in blood sugar followed by a corresponding drop is the typical outcome.  When the rocket fuel burns out and long before the eggs and bacon can be converted to glucose, an emergency signal to the brain will suggest you seek more food.

            The dilemma is that many different types of breakfast foods are satisfying for a short while but have little ability to curb snacking a few hours later.  Popular boxed cereals, instant oats, biscuits, baguettes, and croissants have little staying power.  By comparison, less processed oats (steel cut or rolled), whole grain bread, and whole fruits will have more staying power.  As an alternative, make breakfast your biggest meal of the day using plant-based fiber-rich whole foods that include beans, vegetables, and whole grains.  In essence, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.  Ending the day with a light meal has remarkable health benefits.  With time for the body to experience a mini-fasting state before breakfast, you help yourself perpetuate the healthy breakfast habit.

            If not familiar with alternative breakfast foods, then experiment a bit. In England, Australia, Mexico, and many other countries, beans are a common breakfast food. Why not?  Beans are loaded with slow-release carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. A breakfast bean burrito might be just what you need.

            If breaking into a healthy breakfast habit seems like losing your best friend, that could be a problem. The secret is to make new recipes with your friends. You will discover many delightful opportunities with plant-based foods given that plants are the source of all nutrients and flavors.  Many healthy recipes can delight you. Often all that’s required is a bit of experimenting.  Just remember, you are getting your protein from the same place a person that eats bacon gets their protein. The difference being, your plant protein doesn’t have to go through a pig or cow first and as a result, retains all of the plant’s micronutrients.

            If you have to pick up a burrito on the go, ask for it without the cheese.  Still better, make the burrito filling at home.  For several nice recipes, just search the web for “Black Bean Breakfast Burrito.”

            Nutritionally, beans for breakfast are hard to beat.  What other food is so satisfying yet low in fat with no cholesterol while providing plenty of protein.  With added salsa, what’s not to like? So, take a break from your morning smoothie or bowl of oatmeal and try a savory burrito.

            So, what else is for breakfast?  Well, there are more great foods I could list.  The key is using ingredients that have both high fiber and high water content since these are the foods that are likely to satisfy us before we have overeaten.  This list of possibilities includes almost all edible vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.  Here is a short list of the most common foods that meet these criteria.  To appreciate why these food top the list compare the fiber and water content of these foods.  It’s the combined fiber and water content that makes these foods satisfying.  So, here are the foods to choose from that you are likely to find in local stores.

  • Vegetables: artichokes, avocado, beets, sweet peppers, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green lettuce, green onions, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard greens, okra, onions, mushrooms, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, tomatoes, white mushrooms, zucchini
  • Fruits: apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, clementines, cranberries, figs, grapefruit, grapes, melons, kiwi, mango, nectarine, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, plantain, plums, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, tangerine, watermelon
  • Grains: barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, wheat, wild rice
  • Beans and Peas: black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, peas, pinto beans
  • Nuts and Seeds (Ideal in small amounts): brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, flaxseed, chia seeds

            Perhaps you are still thinking, “So, what’s for breakfast?”  Well, for some that may require being open to new ideas.  If this is you, Chef AJ offered the following advice in a Forks Over Knives interview.

            “ Pretty much all countries except the United States eat vegetables as part of a healthy breakfast. Whether it’s the vegetable miso soup in Japan, the kimchi in Korea, or the pickled vegetables in China, most countries eat a savory breakfast. It’s pretty much only the United States that considers sugar, flour, and caffeine breakfast. If you want to lose weight, make sure that at least half your plate at every meal, yes even breakfast, is vegetables. That will dilute the overall caloric density of every meal. Also, vegetables, especially the dark green leafy ones, have compounds called thykaloids, which have been proven to help turn off the hunger switch and fight cravings for unhealthy junk food, especially sugar. So whether you want to lose weight, recover from food addiction, or just get healthier, the best thing you can do is to start your day in a savory way with vegetables. But you need to eat them whole, not juiced or blended.”

            For more tips from Chef AJ, visit her YouTube channel.

            For even more ideas, peruse the breakfast recipes offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.  Their suggestion for a Green Pepper Tofu Scramble is a quick and easy breakfast that goes nicely with a fruit salad, and whole-grain bread.

            As you work toward creating a nutritious breakfast routine, remember that the best breakfast will be one you are hungry for.  If you eat late at night or snack into the late hours before bedtime, your body is unlikely to be ready for a large breakfast.  In that case, you may be better off having a piece of fruit and saving breakfast for later in the morning.

            For a change of pace, try taking a walk before breakfast if your urge to eat hasn’t yet fully developed.  That’s my routine when I have the chance.  As you may have suspected weekends are when I get that chance.  Give it a try and join me Saturday morning.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Need to Get Organized?

            Are you a list maker in need of organization? Join Kim Holmes of Bullet Journal Joy for a practical approach to keeping your life together with Bullet Journaling!  Madison Public Library, Auditorium 2.  Monday, June 10, 6:00pm – 7:00pm

Summer Concert Series

            The free Tuesday Evening Concert Series is back, and have we got a line-up for you! Come to the Downtown Huntsville Library, 915 Monroe St., at 6 p.m. on the dates below, cool off in the air conditioning, sit back (or get up and dance!), and hear some wonderful live music.

June 11 – Rocket City Jazz Orchestra Dancing with the Library Stars Dance Contest Round 1

June 25 – Moondust Big Band Dancing with the Library Starts Dance Contest Round 2

July 9 – Bluegrass to Blues with Patsy Tripp and Microwave Dave

July 23 – Big Gaping Holes (Pop-Punk) 

August 6 – Ally Free (Singer-songwriter) 

August 20 – Jacquie Cotillard (Baroque Satire)

September 3 – Encore Opera Theatre

September 17 – International Festival of North Alabama Preview (World Music)

Published by Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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