Thanks to slick advertising, breakfast is a meal that is very defined in the minds of most people. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of toast, cereal and juice which, on closer inspection, are not the best ways to start one’s day. Read on to find out why.
The rise in popularity of processed breakfast products in the standard Western diet can be traced back to two main events in history - the advent of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution.
For most of human history, our hunter gatherer ancestors ate - and thrived on - an incredibly diverse, nutrient-dense diet. This changed when their descendants put down roots and began to grow a limited range of crops (mainly grains) that had long shelf lives and were convenient to transport. Living off the land in this new way, meant that carbohydrate intake soared as both protein intake and quality reached an all-time low. Less bioavailable (or readily absorbed) proteins from legumes took the place of most animal proteins - a tendency that persists to this day.
The Industrial Revolution, on the other hand, provided the technological means to turn wheat into flour, rice and corn into boxed cereal and whole fruits into juice. It also led to the creation of companies and ever longer working hours for the workforce, thus creating the need for convenient - and highly processed - breakfast products.
It is important to note that the practice of processing is not necessarily unwise, providing the end result is nutritious and able to offer sustenance. This is not the case with bread, breakfast cereals and juice, to name a few, which have to be synthetically fortified in an attempt to replace lost nutrients. It is this lack of nutrient density in general (and a lack of high quality proteins and fats in particular) that leads to mid-morning dips in energy, a yearning for true nourishment and repeated snacking as a result. Over time, this leads to a range of deficiencies, obesity and sub-optimal health. Interestingly, the most nutrient dense foods happen to be offal, shellfish and red meat, all of which are often deemed detrimental to health.
Contrary to popular belief, humans did not evolve to eat grains - including those in a whole, unprocessed form - in large quantities. In addition to their poor nutrient status, they contain substances - like phytic acid - which impair the uptake of what little nutrients they contain. Indigenous tribesmen painstakingly soaked, sprouted and fermented grains before consumption and studies now show that this ancient practice offers the best chance for nutrient absorption, however small this may be.
Finally, eating in this manner provokes an inflammatory response - an important factor in the development of disease.
Differing opinions on what constitutes a template for a healthy breakfast - even amongst healthcare practitioners - makes an already complex situation worse. An open mind and a desire to experiment with less commonplace alternatives are the key to feeling fuller for longer whilst meeting one’s nutritional needs.
In my next article, I will offer suggestions on how to create nourishing and satisfying breakfasts relatively quickly. In the meantime, you might like to try observing - and/or making a note of - how you feel (energy levels, alertness or lack thereof, etc.) after eating breakfast.