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The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.
According to a reliable news source (Facebook), school is starting in a few places this week. For us, we’re finishing our first full week of classes. Readjusting our lives to the pace of the school day, hasn’t been too bad, but it is still an adjustment.
Thanks to last week’s focus on lunch, the kids’ lunches have been healthy, varied, and (most importantly) packed the night before! This is a huge change for me. Last year, I was rushing around all morning, shoving food in baggies, trying to remember to feed each child before shoving them out the door 10 minutes late.
One of my favorite changes is our new “order system”. Before the kids head to bed each night, I have them write down or dictate their breakfast, snack, and lunch orders. [Now, don’t think this is anything fancy. They know what we have available and chose from what I have on hand.] I tuck them into bed and head downstairs to pack lunches before watching my nightly BBC fix. Once I get in the groove and routine, I think I can cut down nighttime prep to about 15 minutes, hopefully. So far, this system has helped me pack better lunches, snacks and made mornings go very smoothly.
Well, mostly smoothly. Breakfast is getting done, but it’s not as healthy as I would like. Some mornings, it’s just a toast fest. (Don’t judge.) I don’t want to send my kids to school, freshly gorged on toast, because I know they’ll be hungry again soon. I want to…
- serve them a more nutritious breakfast
- set them up for a productive day of learning
- have them eat without complaining
…all in 15 minutes. Is that too much to ask?
Before we talk about quick, nutritious breakfast options, I wanted to get my facts straight. How important is breakfast? What should we try to eat in the mornings? What should we avoid? Let’s take a look at what science has to say about breakfast.
Eat it or skip it?
Everyone’s been told that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” So, is it? I learned that many studies have shown that skipping breakfast can be bad for you.
Let’s look at one frequently-quoted study from Harvard. It showed that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease…well, kind of. The study actually showed that 6% of breakfast eaters suffered heart attacks and 7% of non-breakfast eaters had heart attacks. So where did they get 27%? Once they had all their data, they took into account other heart disease inducing behaviors like smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, diet issues, and obesity. In the end, they determined that an average person of normal health would be 27% more likely to have a heart attack if they routinely skip breakfast.
In addition, breakfast-skippers were more hungry later in the day and would eat more at night than their breakfast-eating peers. The study goes on to say,
“Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time,”
Those are a lot of nasty risks that I’d rather keep at bay, especially with something as simple and enjoyable as EATING.
What about children? Studies have shown that eating breakfast is incredibly important for children too, and breakfast may actually make them smarter. One study showed that children who ate breakfast nearly every day had higher verbal testing scores, better performance, and even higher IQ’s.
Is a Doughnut for Breakfast Better Than Nothing?
The validity of breakfast established, my next question was about the quality of breakfast. Does any food in the morning count as “breakfast” or are some foods better choices than others? I doubt the men in the study above were quite as successful avoiding obesity and diabetes by having 3 doughnuts every morning when compared to the steel-cut oatmeal eaters. Hope that doesn’t sound too judge-y.
[Disclaimer: diet is a personal decision. What might be right for you, may not be right for some. I’m going to work under the assumption of moderation and trying to maximize the “good” stuff.]
As you sleep, your body keeps working. When you wake, your blood sugar is low and your whole system is sensitive, ready for some nourishment. Due of the timing of your meal, your body is more sensitive and will react differently to a food in the morning than the same food later in the day. It may be a noticeable, physiological response or a more subtle, hormonal response.
High glycemic foods like bagels, pastries, and sugary breakfast cereals will raise your blood sugar which triggers a rush of insulin to bring it back down. Studies have shown that eating foods with a high glycemic index will make you feel hungry sooner. More importantly, high glycemic diets are connected to an elevated risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Compound the nature of high glycemic foods with a sensitive, fasting body and breakfast foods are in the position to have a big impact on your health.
So, obviously, we want to avoid high-glycemic foods (sorry, doughnuts), but what should we be having? Nutritional researchers have some recommendations. A good breakfast should include some carbohydrates with naturally occurring fiber (vegetables, fruits, or whole grains), some quality protein (eggs, unprocessed meats, greek yogurt), and some good fats (nuts, salmon).
1. If it has a label, read it. Check the nutritional information, sugar content, fiber content, but most importantly the ingredients. If you’re eating a grain (bread, bagel, waffle, etc), whole wheat, oats, or another whole grain should be high up in the list. Enriched flour is not a whole grain. It’s been processed and had vitamins and fiber added back in later.
2. Smart carbs. Keep your carbohydrate sources as simple and whole as possible: whole fruits, veggies, or whole grains. Homemade bread from freshly ground wheat is a beautiful, beautiful thing! Avoid processed grains and anything that includes a “frosting” packet. There’s no way that can be good for you.
3. Coffee, not a concoction. If you’re after a caffeine boost, cut to the chase with black coffee or a shot of espresso. Coffee beverages like mochas, flavored lattes are packed with sugars, trans fats, artificial flavorings, and even food dyes. The high sugar content will turn your caffeine buzz into a sugar crash. If you need it sweet, opt for an organic sugar or other non-processed sweetener with a lower glycemic index. Bonus: a shot of espresso is less than half the cost of a flavored beverage.
4. Egg it on. Eggs are a good source of protein and vitamins. Yes, they contain cholesterol, but the good news is that dietary fats and blood sugar levels have a stronger impact on heart disease than dietary cholesterol does. In short, eat an egg. If you have access to pasture-raised chicken eggs, they will have a fantastic nutritional profile and actually contain the good fats your body needs. If you can get the good stuff, definitely do it. If you can’t, limit your consumption. One egg per day is the standard recommendation.
5. Bacon Moderation. Don’t feel like you have to give up all the good stuff. If you are making breakfast meats part of your menu, try to select better quality products, omitting nitrites/nitrates, preservatives, fillers, and MSG. The less processed, the better. Check www.eatwild.com for a list of local pasture-raised pork suppliers. I’ve found a local farm that raises their pigs in the fields and will sell me freshly cut bacon. It’s delicious, unprocessed and cheaper than the grocery store. Processed meats are associated with increased risks of colorectal cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, so if you can’t get the “good” stuff, make it a very occasional treat.
6. Skip the juice. Whole fruits can be high in sugar, but the natural fiber helps lower their glycemic impact. If you lose the fiber and drink just the juice, you’re getting a high-sugar drink. Personally, if my blood sugar is going to take a hit, it’s going to be for a better cause.
7. Hide it in a smoothie. A smoothie is quick, easy and transportable nutrition. You can get creative and blend in fruits and veggies for extra nutrition, add protein, and extra vitamins. Smoothies can be made in minutes, pouring into a travel cup and enjoyed on the go.
8. Drive past, not thru. Make an effort to eat at home. When you dine out, you lose food quality, ingredient quality, and control over preparation. Even if the calorie content looks safe, the ingredients may be sneaky. Drive thru breakfasts can be packed with sodium, preservatives, MSG and deplorably low in fiber. If you have to eat on the road, plan ahead, research your options, and know what you’re eating. Ask for shelled eggs, if available.
Cereals, Marketing, and Kids
Looking at a box of cereal, it’s easy to tell if it’s being marketed towards children. Bright colors, cartoon characters, shelf placement all draw in a child’s eye. Even with the help of nutrition labels, it can be overwhelming to find a healthy cereal. In our house, we don’t buy cereal often, but when we do, we have some rules: no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no weird oils, etc. As I was researching, I came across a site that may be helpful as we try to make cereal choices: Cereal FACTS. Their focus is on documenting the “nutritional quality and marketing of cereals to children”. When they first started four years ago, they found that the least healthy cereals are the ones which are also most aggressively marketed to our kids. For some quick tips, you can view their top 10 best and worst cereal lists. These lists are based on the nutritional labels. Next week, we’re going to take this a step further and find some homemade, organic cereal recipes that taste great.
As a gluten-intolerant, soy-allergic gal, grains don’t find their way to my breakfast very often. For me, grain-free has made a very positive health change, healing some inflammatory conditions I was facing. To avoid overdosing on eggs every morning, I’ve learned to love some breakfast veggies as my source of carbs. Whether you eschew grains or not, adding some veggies to your breakfast will never hurt and give you some great vitamins, minerals, and flavor to start the day. I am diligently compiling a few of my favorite breakfast recipes to share with you next week! I’ve also asked my son to write up a couple of his favorite breakfasts.
As far as improving the kids’ morning toast fest, I’m going to start by adding some breakfast protein options. Given morning time constraints, I’m leaning towards finding some wild caught smoked salmon to serve on the side, because I know they’ll eat it, and the extra Omega-3’s will be a nice brain power boost too. When budget (or the fickle food preference of a 4 year old) doesn’t welcome the salmon, I’ll probably offer a protein smoothie. We use a grass-fed whey protein powder (sweetened with stevia) with a little milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Any other quick protein suggestions? Keep ‘em coming!
Next week, we’ll continue our breakfast discussion. I’ve polled a reliable data source (yep Facebook again) and asked two questions: 1) how much time do you usually have for breakfast, and 2) what is your typical breakfast. How would you answer these questions? We’ll look at some of these typical breakfast foods and offer some options to make them more nutritious, equally quick, and even less expensive. Come hungry, because it’s time for some recipes!