Everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day and yet most people are choosing some of the worst foods possible to eat first thing in the morning. I see two main issues at hand. First, most of us are in a rush so we just grab whatever is at hand and second, clever marketing has convinced us that foods that have the nutritional value of cardboard (or less) and are loaded with sugar is a healthy way to start the day. Not so!
I like to refer to the stuff that comes out of a box as dry, hard, crunchy poison in a bowl. Even the “whole grain” stuff that the big health food stores sell is all the same to me. There are unpublished studies done with extruded grains (that would be the process the grains go through that creates “breakfast” cereal) given to animals. The animals fed extruded grains died even before their buddies who were fed the cardboard from the boxes that the grains were packed in. Sounds like the cardboard has more nutrition. Sounds like poison to me. Okay – so maybe your not going to die from it immediately, but it sure isn’t healthy and it sure isn’t breakfast.
The word breakfast means exactly that – you are breaking a fast. Normally we haven’t eaten for about 12 or so hours, so the first meal of the day is indeed the breaking of a short fast. If you have ever fasted you know that you don’t break a fast with the most difficult to digest foods but rather the easiest to digest foods. And you definitely don’t want to be breaking your fast (read: start your day) on a sugar high that will just lead to a crash in a very short while. (and we wonder why diabetes is the number one growing health concern in this country – to me it’s as clear as day!)
The best way to start your day is with foods that are not only easy to digest but those that will give you long lasting energy and plenty of wholesome nutrition. Some people do better having grain in the morning, some with protein. You have to figure out which works best for you. Maybe what works for you is to have a little of both.
If grains make you feel full and give you lasting energy then start your day with soft cooked whole grains (porridge). Since these take a little time to cook make enough to last for the week. When my kids were young I would soak the grains all day. Then when we sat down for dinner I’d put the pot of porridge on. It would cook for several hours while we ate, did homework and got ready for bed. Then I’d turn it off and let it cool overnight. The next morning I would warm what I would use for breakfast and refrigerate the rest.
Mix and match the grains that you cook, changing up the mixture you cook from week to week. If you like your porridge rich and creamy use whole oats as your base. My preference is to cook oats for a long time to bring out the natural creaminess rather than putting milk or a milk substitute on the cereal. Eat the oats on their own or combine with one or several other whole grains. Brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, barley (whole grain barley is also known as pot barley) and teff are a few whole grains that you can use. If you would like your porridge to be sweet cook it with organic dried fruit such as dates, apricots, currants or raisins. Add a bit of toasted or raw seeds or nuts at the end to create a satisfying crunch. This is a great place for freshly ground flaxseed. Some spice such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom or allspice adds some flare and try a bit of lemon, lime or orange zest to brighten the porridge.
It would do us all some good to stop thinking that breakfast food is synonymous with sweet food. In most parts of the world breakfast is savory. Actually, breakfast in most parts of the world is just left over food from the day before with water added to it and cooked to be a soft porridge. Since my kids are now grown I have no interest in making breakfast any longer. When I am hungry in the morning I have left over soup (my favorite is a bean soup), vegetables or stew for breakfast. Works for me!
One of my personal favorites for breakfast is either pan-fried or baked mochi. There are two brands available – Grainaissance, available at Whole Foods and other health food markets or Kendall mochi, which you can have shipped to you. (contact Charles Kendall – 413-238-5928). Kendall is my all time favorite to pan fry since it gets gooey like no other..
Miso soup, a traditional part breakfast in Japan, is also a great thing to have first thing in the morning. It’s protein, it’s fermented and you can pack with vegetables. It’s best to make your own, don’t buy instant or pre-packaged miso soup. If you are not using organic miso the soybeans are most likely gmo beans and it is also likely to be chemically “fermented” (not really fermented at all) rather than using the traditional fermentation techniques. Making miso soup is easy and it will keep for a week. Just don’t boil the finished soup since that destroys the wonderful digestive aiding qualities of miso. If you have concerns about soy several companies now make a chickpea miso.
For those of you who need a bit more protein in the morning have scrambled or pan fried tofu. If you enjoy eggs a nice frittata, omelet or scrambled eggs is great to have. When I scramble eggs, it is more like scrambled vegetables with a bit of egg in it. The eggs come from a local farm from pastured chickens and boy, are they delicious. That with a bit of whole grain sourdough bread – Yum! It’s a meal (that’s the point!)
For the days you want something light have some fresh fruit, yogurt or a handful or two of mixed nuts and dried fruit. If you have time in the morning then definitely juice. When you have yogurt use plain organic yogurt, sweetening it when you are ready to eat it with a bit of organic raw honey, yacoun, organic maple syrup or granules, organic agave or organic rice syrup and add some fresh fruit. Since I try to be a locavore I like to use Seven Stars Farm or Hawthorne Valley Farm yogurt since these are local bio-dynamic farms.
One more thing to have at breakfast – vegetables (this is usually where I lose people!). 60% of our diet should be vegetables. Your blood sugar levels, your bones, your immune system and your brain will all thank you if you add in some lightly cooked or juiced greens and/or other veggies first thing in the morning. I cook freshly steamed or blanched veggies every other day making sure to make enough to have in the morning.