Apparently, according to just about everyone and anyone, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It’s tempting to declare that this is an old wives’ tale. In fact, most of our mothers would have drummed that into us while we were growing up.
But then, life got in the way, and suddenly we joined the ‘I skip breakfast regularly and I know it’s bad for me’ generation. And while our lives get busier and busier, the habit of having breakfast at 9am at the desk or just not eating until lunch seems more ingrained (if you’ll excuse the pun).That visual from movies in the 90s of a family at the kitchen table happily eating breakfast and drinking orange juice while dad reads the paper is nowadays something that belongs in a museum.
The issue is not that we have become busier or that we are time-poor; the issue is that we are less aware of the consequences of skipping breakfast. Despite the large amount of information at our fingertips, we lack the understanding that having a coffee on the run and eating a choc chip muffin at 9am is not breakfast; that’s a snack. And not a healthy one either.
What is breakfast then?
The simple fact is this: breakfast will provide you with the energy and nutrients you require to get your day off to a winning start, which will ultimately lead you to greater productivity and maintaining a healthy body.
However, that statement requires deeper analysis. Firstly, what is breakfast, when should one consume it and is it the only thing that will lead to greater productivity?
In order to understand what impact eating breakfast can have on your body, we first need to have a little biology lesson…
The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
Energy is required for us to be active. Our body’s preferred source of energy is a nutrient called carbohydrates, which are then broken down into glucose (sugar) once consumed. Once the glucose enters the bloodstream, the body’s blood sugar level rises, and the pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin in order to regulate the blood sugar level.
Insulin attaches itself to sugar molecules and transports them to be stored in the muscles and liver cells for energy use first, and then once those are full, they are stored in the fat cells, which have no limit in storage capacity.
While it is tempting to believe then that we need to eat less carbohydrates, this isn’t the case due to a fairly recent measurement called GI (Glycaemic Index). This is a measure of the rate that all nutrients are broken down into glucose and released into the blood. The lower the GI, the slower that sugar is released into the blood and the less insulin is released.
By contrast, when we eat high GI foods, our blood sugar levels rise rapidly (the sugar high!), and the body reacts by producing a lot more insulin, which then sends the blood sugar levels plummeting south. This is then the resultant fatigue, irritability and hunger that one experiences, which we often seek out sugary foods like sweets and chocolates to get us back on a high. Furthermore, excess insulin can therefore result in excess sugar being stored in the fat cells.
So, then, surely we should just eat low GI foods? Not quite.
The Blood Sugar Objective
Based on the above, it stands to reason that maintaining optimal blood sugar levels throughout the day is the goal. But how?
When we first wake up, our blood sugar levels are low. Our bodies have remained in recovery mode for about 8 hours. The trick then is to wake up and WITHIN 10 MINUTES consume a few pieces of a medium to high GI fruit such as pineapple or watermelon to raise the blood sugar levels to near the optimal level. This is necessary so as to avoid eating highly processed foods to make up for the lack of energy a few hours later.
Another trick is to throw down half a litre to 1 litre of water (you can add a few drops of lemon for maximum effect). This will help with flushing toxins out of your body that have accumulated over the course of your sleep.
What about Breakfast?
With only a small snack having already been consumed, the chances are that you will be hungry Therefore, around 20 minutes later, you need to have a proper breakfast, which should include a healthy balance of protein, grains and some fats.
An example would be a slice of wholegrain toast with a poached or boiled egg with some avocado in place of butter. Another option would be some granola or muesli (half a cup) with some organic yoghurt.
The rest of the day
Lunch and dinner should also be a nice mix of protein, vegetables and fruit, but that is as broad a statement as possible in an article about breakfast!
Over the course of the day, in order to maintain optimal blood sugar, snacking is important. Yes, snack away! But the key to snacking is to have protein only snacks such as a protein bar (with little or no carbs) or a protein shake. Other alternatives are walnuts or almonds.
Reference: Jobling, Andrew, Eat Chocolate, Drink Alcohol and Be Lean & Healthy (2004), Hinkler Books
This article originally appeared on The Final Whistle.