Monday, October 17, 2011

Is brekkie justified?

"Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper."

Heard this before? It's common in North America.

And it's no surprise that the medical establishment thinks missing breakfast is one of the worst things you can do to your body aside from, say, downing 2 eggs, a steak, and liver for your daily repasts. You need go no farther than WebMD to for such dogma.

But if we've learned one lesson about health studies here at NbT, it's to question everything you're told. In this post, we're going to examine the long-standing advice to Eat Breakfast, No Matter What (just for flavor and emphasis, they might as well add: "...Or Else!").

Insights from India

One of the oldest medical systems in the world, Ayurveda, dictates that breakfast should be light, warm, and nourishing because the digestive system is just revving up in the early hours. For the record, it also stipulates that lunch be the largest meal of the day because digestion peaks at midday. Also, this tradition holds that "fruit in the morning is like gold," for the morning is the best time to absorb nutrients from fruit. (2)

Hawnh-Hawnh, Spaghetti, and Churroth

This blog is Nutrition by Tradition, so we place faith in traditional foodways, even if they sometimes seem counterintuitive to us. For example, if you ask the typical French person if they'd eat bacon, eggs & sausage for breakfast, they'd probably stare at ye wide-eyed. The French take light, sweet breakfasts of toast with butter and jam, or a croissant, plus a hot drink of some kind. Breakfast for them is, it seems, never a savory affair.

Churros con xocolate. Um, yes please. Like, for any meal. KTHX

In Italy and Spain, the traditional breakfast is similar. Just coffee with some kind of bread, whether it's biscotti - sweet, crunchy coffee bread - or churros, basically deep-fried dough smothered with sugar and cinnamon.

All three countries' breakfast customs would make your average American nutritionist scampering for a 3-pound salad with reduced-fat yogurt. But behold the major irony here: the French, Italians, and Spaniards are some of the most long-lived people in the world. Sure, they suffer increasingly from degenerative diseases (no doubt thanks to their penchant for foods containing sugar and white flour), but they still have a considerably high life expectancy. Sure, they eat what some would say is crap for brekkie, but they also eat plenty of nutrient-dense traditional foods like liver, seafood, bone broth soups, greens, and fermented foods like cheese.

This goes to show that breakfast or not, a diet is more than the sum of its parts.

Bánh bao, a traditional Vietnamese breakfast dish

Ambling over to Asia...

Most common on Chinese breakfast tables, the rice porridge congee is centuries old. Consisting of little more than cooked rice, vegetables, and small bits of meat or fish, congee represents a different take on breakfast from the three European countries above. In China savory is predominant in the morning. Same goes for Japan. Traditionally, the Japanese broke their fasts with rice, miso soup, and tsukemono - pickled veggies. Alternatively, they might have fermented soybeans (natto). However, American influence has caused pancakes and yogurt to crop up on Japanese breakfast tables more frequently.

Hong-Kong style congee

Fasting for health

One possible benefit of skipping breakfast is giving your body a chance to rest, fuelling the body until lunch off stored fat. A growing body of research supports this idea; in fact, beyond giving your digestive apparatus a break, fasting induces something called autophagy. This word comes from the Greek "auto," meaning self, and "phagy," to eat. In a state of autophagy, some interesting processes take place in our body. One, the body does a mopping up operation (call it housecleaning. Corporeal housecleaning!), recycling cellular debris through lysosomes (3). It's kind of like forcing the body to maximize its efficiency through recycling (huzzah).

Have you tried to build muscle only to find yourself downing 50 grams of protein powder every day?

Martin Berkhan over at Leangains presents compelling arguments that short-term fasting works, not only for health, but for muscle-building. How does he do it exactly? Well, he skips breakfast -- every day.

You're so Bioindividual 

When it comes to deciding what - or if - to eat in the morning, take a lesson from Mark Sisson and experiment. If you have a sedentary job, consider eating a light breakfast of fruit and toast with a hot drink, or rice porridge and bone broth soup. You may try skipping breakfast altogether. If your work entails physical labor, perhaps cheese, eggs, or some other protein-fat is needed in the morning.

Another factor in the 'To eat or not to eat brekkie' question is whether you have acceless to enough nutritious fare at dinner and lunch to nourish yourself for the day. It's probably wise to eat a well-balanced, substantial meal in the morning if you don't have the means for a well-balanced lunch. That said, many cultures make lunch the main meal of the day, and Ayurveda dictates that digestion is strongest at midday. Due to this, you may choose to eat the biggest meal then, if possible.

Whatever choice you make about the morning refection, the important thing is to eat nutrient-dense traditionally-prepared foods, for pleasure and good health.

The two have always gone hand-in-hand, after all.

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