“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper”. Ever heard that one (I’m sure you have!)? The importance of eating breakfast is something which has been instilled in my head for as long as I can remember. Well, until I started immersing myself in all things nutrition that is. Now I’m not so sure. The messages are confusing, there’s no doubt about it.
So let’s look at the benefits of eating breakfast (we’re going back to what’s in my head now, not necessarily fact). Feel free to add your own:
1. It will kick-start your metabolism. Seemingly without it your metabolism will fail to get going for the day.
2. It will stop you being hungry until lunchtime. If you don’t eat breakfast you’ll be reaching for chocolate or crisps mid-morning, thus setting yourself up for a blood sugar roller coaster all day.
3. It helps maintain a steady weight. See above.
4. It gives your brain some glucose (brain fuel), thus making your mind sharper and able to engage in intellectual tasks.
OK, so far so good, it’s what we’ve all been told for years. But now there’s another school of thought, and that is that restricting when you eat offers the potential for many health benefits, including lowered inflammation levels, fixing insulin resistance (insulin resistance messes with blood sugar management and is believed to be a large factor in many diseases, including heart disease and obesity), normalizing appetite hormones so you have a better chance of eating according to hunger rather than desire, and lowering triglyceride levels (blood fats). Restrict your eating to 8 hours a day they say, and you will reap these health benefits. And there’s research to back this up!
I have to say, for me personally breakfast is a must. I am always ravenous in the mornings. I also know that going without food puts the body under stress, and being under stress invokes the release of the hormone cortisol. The evolutionary design is for cortisol to facilitate a fight or flight reaction to keep you alive! But my life is not in danger by skipping breakfast, so I don’t need the release of glucose that cortisol stimulates, which in turn causes insulin release and all the inflammatory, weight gaining, blood sugar roller coaster side effects that come with it. It’s one of the issues around intermittent fasting that isn’t widely known – it just doesn’t suit everybody!
And therein lies the rub about what to believe: everyone’s an individual, and eating breakfast is a necessity for some, and not necessary for others. We cannot impose a ‘one size fits all’ directive on whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day. With naturopathic nutrition you will never be shoe-horned into a particular theory about diet, because everyone being an individual is one our most important principles!
However, there are things you can do to maximise the benefit of breakfast if breakfast is necessary for you. Have you ever read the breakdown of some of the breakfast cereals out there? OK, so you might think you are being healthy because they are fortified with vitamins (go on, I bet it’s crossed your mind!) I happen to think if they didn’t mess with the grain in the first place they wouldn’t have to put some of those nutrients back in! And some of them are nearly 80% carbohydrate, with very low levels of fat and protein. If you’ve taken in what I’ve said about blood sugar management you’ll know this is not going to keep you going all morning, nor help you maintain/lose weight. And don’t get sucked into the hype about milk. To get calcium where it needs to be in your body you need magnesium and vitamin D, and milk is a relatively poor source of magnesium. Seriously, please skip breakfast cereals and go for something sustaining. Eggs, porridge with some ground flax, nuts and seeds, smoothies (made mostly with vegetables) with protein powder, wholegrain toast and oily fish…there are lots of sustaining combinations that will help keep insulin release at a trickle and keep you going for a lot longer (I make my own granola – recipe is further back on my Facebook page).
I’m really interested to know what works for you. Leave a comment and share whether you eat breakfast or not, and if you do what keeps you going.
And now I’m going off to find some granola. My tummy is rumbling!