Written by Dr. Laura Jones
Americans, including many of our adult and especially pediatric patients, are stuck in a rut when it comes to breakfast food. Their first meal of the day is commonly comprised of processed gluten-containing grains, refined sugars, and dairy. Many wonder why they are experiencing large dips in energy, focus, and mood 2 hours after the meal, often struggling with focus issues or foggy brains. No more than 1.5-2 hours after the meal, they are also experiencing hunger or cravings.
While breakfast foods rich in refined grains and sugars are quick and convenient for fast-paced mornings, they do us few favors when it comes to health and performance at work and school. Refined grains and sugars are rich in carbohydrates and contain little to no protein. Consumption of just carbohydrates results in a quick and sharp spike of blood sugar, followed by an equally quick fall, often between 1.5-2 hours following the meal. The consumer is often left feeling fatigued with poor focus, and often craving more carbs or caffeine for a pick-me-up.
The rapid increase in blood sugar also gives the body the impression there is extra carbs and for many people’s biochemistry, this is the right recipe for favoring fat storage mode. Except for following a particularly strenuous workout, a breakfast with carbohydrates higher than 18-24 grams is likely more than needed. For people with weight concerns, pre-diabetes or diabetes, we ask them to aim for a max of 12-18 grams of carbohydrates for breakfast. The remainder of the meal should be protein and high quality fats.
Protein and fat consumption do not result in the same spike in blood sugar mentioned above. Instead, protein and fat allows for more steady release of energy from the food. If carbohydrates are going to be part of the meal, coupling them with lean protein and healthy fats, will allow for a more gradual rise and fall of blood sugar over a longer period. This will give the consumer steadier and longer lasting energy, better brain power and will result in significantly less carbohydrate and sugar cravings for the remainder of the day. This is especially important to consider for our pediatric patients who may be struggling with attention or behavior issues come mid-morning at school.
Among some of our patients at Whole Health, there is the presence of gluten, dairy and egg sensitivities. This can make the quest for a healthy breakfast even more challenging. For these patients, not only is the gluten-containing grain high in carbohydrates but it may also cause troublesome inflammation in the body. If dairy and egg are well tolerated then organic varieties from healthy animals offer great protein-rich breakfast options from unsweetened Greek yogurt with fresh organic fruit to scrambled eggs sautéed with onions and healthy green. Dairy and eggs, from healthy sources are rich in protein and are good choices for breakfast when coupled with some fruit or vegetables. But what if eggs and dairy are also inflammatory for those with identified food sensitivities? That means ALL of our traditional American breakfast foods are subpar choices. This presents a situation in which not only are bagels, toast, waffles and cereals off the table, but even yogurt and sunny side up delights.
This is when thinking Outside the Box comes in handy. This is when it is necessary for us to say farewell to those morning comforts we were raised on and start choosing foods that work best for our body. In warmer months, a protein smoothie with a low carb, dairy-free (whey and casein-free) protein powder and some fresh or frozen organic fruit is a terrific way to start the day. The protein powder will stabilize blood sugar for the next several hours. Other ideas include lean chicken sausage, left over pork or chicken breast from the night before, reheated with some applesauce, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dr. Jones is a fan of red lentils (that do have some carbohydrates) cooked up with onions, ginger and red pepper flakes with sautéed greens on top or a “breakfast chili” made with diced apple, heavy on lean protein, with and seasoned with extra cinnamon. Consider roasting up large batches of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, onions and peppers, even asparagus ahead of time so they are ready to reheat and accompany the meal. We understand these certainly aren’t your average breakfast foods but once you experience the improvements in energy, mood, productivity, and likely weight if you have some to lose, you’ll find this worth the effort. Be sure to see some of our favorite Outside the Box breakfast ideas below and feel free to share in comments if you have any great recipes you believe other would enjoy as well!
Dr. Jones’ Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Lentils (Large Batch, 6-8 Servings)
1-2 tbsp. of olive oil or coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 – 2 inches of fresh ginger, match-sticked then cut into ¼ inch long pieces (or 2-3 tsp powdered ginger)
1-1.5 tbsp. curry powder (depending on how strong of a taste you enjoy, even more if you’d like
1 -2 pinches of red pepper flakes (omit if you don’t like heat)
3 cups red lentils rinsed
6-7 cups of water (you’ll cook lentils until well softened – amount of water often depends on stove top temp.)
4-6 cups of prewashed spinach or chopped chard.
Sea salt and pepper to season
Sautee onion, garlic and ginger in oil inside large Dutch oven or pot on medium-medium high until softened. Place rinsed lentils and water into pot. Turn heat to medium and cover, cooking until lentils are very soft – usually 20-30 minutes. Once soft, stir in curry and (optional) red pepper flakes. Stir washed and prepped green into pot of lentils (don’t worry, the volume with shrink substantially). Turn heat to medium-low and stir occasionally until greens are completely wilted. Season with a good amount of black pepper and add sea salt if desired.
1 small onion, diced or chopped to your liking
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, chopped
1 green apple, peach or nectarine, peeled and diced
1 pound of lean, ground chicken, turkey or beef
2 cans of black beans or kidney beans, rinsed very well or two cups cooked from home
1 can organic diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp of ginger
¼ -½ tsp black pepper
½-1 tsp cinnamon (season to your liking)
Pinch or two of salt if desired
1 tsp of agave or maple syrup
Brown poultry and meat then drain, then set aside. Sautee onion, pepper, and apple in large Dutch oven until softened. Add rinsed beans, can of tomatoes, chili powder, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, salt and small amount of listed sweetener if desired (with cinnamon, this cuts acidity of tomato). Heat until hot and serve.