Breakfast of Champions
Historically I am terrible for skipping breakfast. I’ve always blamed it on being busy. I would rather take the time to relax in the morning than cook a meal. Plus I didn’t often wake up hungry, so it was easy to push my first meal until I got to work. The lockdown has taken those excuses away. Since I started working from home, I rarely have somewhere to be. Initially, I started cooking breakfast to help me establish some sort of routine. Breakfast gave my morning’s structure and the day a little more shape. After a few weeks, I began to notice some shifts related to my health. My appetite was stronger in the morning and diminished at night. My sleep improved immensely. I started waking up feeling rested, something I was not used to. I also found myself more focused at work. I can’t say for certain that all of these improvements were related to my addition of breakfast (traveling for work used to eat up an enormous amount of time, contributing to my stress levels immensely). I do know for certain that I feel better-eating breakfast more consistently.
People who eat breakfast are found to be more healthy than individuals who skip it. This isn’t necessarily because of breakfast itself, but rather the act of starting your day on the right foot. When you choose to have breakfast you’re essentially prioritizing the choice to nourish your body. Skipping breakfast only leads to delayed calorie intake. Your body is still going to need the same amount of fuel, you’re just pushing it to later in the day. This concept is important to debunk two common assumptions made around breakfast. Let me be clear, eating breakfast does not boost your metabolism, and skipping breakfast will not cause excess weight gain or loss. Although there will always be exceptions, this is true for most of the population.
If you’re new to eating breakfast consistently or just looking to upgrade your routine, I’ve compiled my major do’s and don’ts of breakfast. I intend to help you start your day right, whether that means sustained energy, better focus, and/or a more stable mood. Look to these suggestions as a guide rather than hard rules. Always do what’s right for YOUR body. Food is meant to be a source of joy and sometimes that means eating a donut for breakfast.
Try This Not That
Sugar vs. Complex Carbohydrates
The key to preventing that afternoon crash is choosing the right form of sugar in the morning. All carbohydrates, except for fiber, break down to sugar. If you have a lot of sugar at once you might experience a spike in blood sugar. This simply means the amount of sugar in your bloodstream increases rapidly. With a spike, comes a crash. This crash often leaves individuals feeling tired and moody, and can cause cravings where hunger isn’t present. If you’re someone who often gets tired after eating, or experiences “hanger” a lot, you might want to evaluate your carbohydrate consumption.
Avoiding processed sugar and opting for complex carbohydrates will be supportive of your blood sugar levels. Many common breakfast items, such as cereals, yogurts, and muffins, often contain a lot of added sugar. A good way to limit these added sugars is to look at your product labels. Ingredients like corn syrup, maltodextrin, and anything ending in “-ose” (e.g. glucose, sucrose, fructose) are all hidden forms of sugar. Natural forms of concentrated sugar, like honey or maple syrup, are much better sources but I still recommend consuming them later in the day. The main source of sugar for breakfast should be in the form of complex carbohydrates. This form of carbs often contains more fiber, and won’t affect blood sugar levels as much. Complex carbohydrates include veggies like tomatoes, grains like oats, and legumes like baked beans. If you’re interested in exploring this more, look up low-glycemic carbohydrates. Low glycemic carbohydrates have a minimal impact on blood sugar and are often forms of complex carbs.
Fat, Fiber and Protein - The Holy Trio of Breakfast
Now that we are familiar with how blood sugar spikes in the morning can impact the rest of our day, let’s take a look at some nutrients that can prevent this. Fat, fiber, and protein all slow the rate at which sugar is absorbed. They are essential when it comes to staying satiated. If you’re someone who has breakfast and finds yourself hungry only shortly after, you might want to look at including more sources of fat, fiber, and protein in your breakfast.
Fat has gotten a bad wrap over the years. For a long time, it was commonly agreed upon that fat consumption contributes to cardiovascular disease and weight gain. Not only has this been disproven, but now we know it can have the opposite effect. One type of fat, in particular, omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to improve mood, memory, and concentration. To get the most from fat look to healthy sources like coconut oil, avocados, flax seeds, chia seeds, olive oil, and fish.
Fiber is key to slowing down digestion and preventing blood sugar spikes. It essentially acts as a binder, sticking to other things and making them harder to break down. Although this might not sound beneficial, it is a huge part of what keeps the gut happy and healthy. It slows down the time it takes food to move through our digestive tract, allowing for better nutrient utilization. It also binds to toxins in the gut, assisting with their safe removal. Daily intake of fiber should be around 25-35 g. That works out to about 5-10 g per meal, including a snack. Getting that amount of fiber is easier than you think. For example, an avocado contains around 14 grams of fiber, chia seeds contain about 5 g per tablespoon, and oats contain about 8 g per cup. Consider adding some of these classic breakfast ingredients int your routine more often.
Protein is another macronutrient that plays a key role in staying satiated. If you are to take away anything from this post, it should be the importance of protein at breakfast. This is due to protein’s ability to lower ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is often called the “hunger hormone”. It is responsible for stimulating food intake aka. making us feel hungry. The best way to lower ghrelin levels, besides eating, is by consuming protein. Protein lowers ghrelin levels more than the other two macronutrients (fats and carbs). By consuming protein and breakfast, you are more likely to stay full until lunch. Good sources of protein include eggs, fish, greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, beans, and meat.
Be Mindful of Your Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine can be a great kick-start to your day, but it’s important not to go overboard. When we consume too much caffeine first thing in the morning, it can lead to a crash later in the day. If you experience foggy thinking or sleepiness around 2-3 pm (I call it my window of uselessness) it could be that morning cup of joe. There are a few things you can do to improve your morning caffeine habits to help prevent that afternoon lull.
Opting for tea instead of coffee is a great practice to adopt a few days of the week. Tea is often higher in antioxidants and calming compounds like L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that helps promote a sense of calm, aiding with memory and focus. Instead of just providing your body with energy from coffee, you can promote focused energy and better concentration. Most forms of tea contain less caffeine than coffee. That means you can enjoy multiple cups throughout the day, and it won’t impact your sleep in the way coffee might.
Another important consideration for your morning caffeine game is how you take your drink. I talked about why it is important to avoid sugar first thing in the morning, but this is especially important when it comes to pairing it with caffeine. Sugar and coffee are essentially a surefire way to send your hormones on a rollercoaster first thing in the morning. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, while cortisol is a hormone that regulates our stress response. Cortisol secretion is naturally high in the morning but caffeine can increase secretion even more. Unfortunately, cortisol impairs the functioning of insulin. It essentially counteracts the effects and promotes elevated blood sugar levels. The combination of caffeine and sugar is likely to cause energy fluctuations throughout your day, leading to an afternoon crash. If cutting out sugar isn’t an option for you, try pairing it with some fat or protein. As discussed earlier, fat and protein slow the rate at which sugar is absorbed. They can also slow the rate at which caffeine is absorbed. This helps create sustained energy. Try adding some collagen, full-fat cream, and/or butter to your morning cup of joe and see if it makes a difference.
Whether you’re new to eating breakfast or just looking to elevate your game, I hope these easy-to-implement suggestions are helpful. For most people, a balanced breakfast should focus on fat, protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. If you’re someone who deals with afternoon energy slumps maybe consider cutting out sugar in the morning or that second (or third) cup of coffee. As with any meal, always focus on variety. Change up your breakfast game often to get more nutrients, and less bored.
With any adjustment to a routine, it takes time to settle in. As always, we're here for any questions that might come up while you’re figuring it out. If you’re looking for breakfast ideas stay tuned for our upcoming breakfast recipe posts for next Friday. We’re here to help elevate your health and your plate.
Danielle Wiens C.N.P