October 28, 2010


Breakfast. Let's take a second, and deconstruct that word. We have "break", first of all. And then, of course, there is "fast". Combine the two, and we have the concept of breaking one's overnight fast. That is, since you've been sleeping, you've not been eating. And so, after waking up from a hard night of cellular reconstruction, your body might well want some calories.

I say might, because many are not inclined to hunger first thing in the morning. Perhaps it's the uptick in catabolic hormones; or maybe it's just lethargy. In any case, breakfast, for many, is coffee. Sure, the may put some cream and sugar in it, but the bulk of their morning stimulation is caffeine. That's it.

And that, I think, is not good. Now I do not subscribe to the notion that breakfast is "the most important meal of the day", or that it's any kind of panacea. There are plenty of lean, healthy, breakfast skippers out there. But regardless, I think that, for most people, starting the day with some calories is a good way to ensure steady energy and avoid over-snacking or binging later.

But, while there is some controversy concerning whether one really ought to break their fast, or perhaps would be better served waiting until they've built up some hunger, most diets seem to agree that eating in the morning is a good thing. That is not the case when considering what the breakfast ought to be composed of.

A common breakfast, for those who do eat, is some sort of heavily refined starch, usually sweetened. Not much protein to speak of, and very little fat. Say, something like a granola bar, or a sweet cereal. And then there are the extremes. We have the paleo and low carb folks, for whom starch of all kinds is considered poison. A breakfast for them typically consists of eggs, just about any style. Usually, vegetables join the party. Then we have the heath food inclined vegetarians/vegans/flexitarians/etc. These are the whole grain eaters, the consumers of complex carbs and fiber.

There are doctors on ever side of the debate, wielding evidence like a hatchet. I happen to think the paleo folks have something resembling a point, in terms of short term weight loss. Chronically high insulin levels make you fat. Lower carb intake lowers insulin levels. But I do not, in general, think this diet is useful beyond the very short term -- and only then for the obese. While the human brain can run on ketones and glucose metabolized from protein, I believe the function to be, for most, suboptimal. The health food folks have their points as well. Complex carbs do supply a steady supply of glucose to the brain, as well as glycogen to working muscles (important if you're an exerciser).

The solution I choose for myself tends towards the middle. That is, I eat starch. I like it, first of all; and I dare say extreme weight loss is not a goal I need aspire to. I also eat fat and protein, from both animal and vegetable sources. I think most people would benefit from a similar plan. Breakfast is a meal too, and too often overlooked. You wouldn't eat a tiny snack for dinner, so why would you start your day that way?

Try this current favorite if you want something really substantial. You almost certainly have all the ingredients necessary.

1 cup dry oatmeal
1 tbs crunchy peanut butter
1 whole banana
1 cup liquid

Microwave the oatmeal, using the milk in place of water if you want the extra fat and protein. I happen to think water results in a better texture, however. In any case, nuke the oatmeal, and stir in the peanut butter. Then, mash up the banana (it can be messy, but oh well) and stir it it.

And then, of course, drink coffee.

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