No ifs, ands, or buts about it: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I realize I may sound like a nagging wife or mom and I don’t care. Moms and wives (and dads and other caretakers) instinctively know loved ones need proper nourishment to start the day. If you are the modern American who typically skedaddles out of the house without eating breakfast, it’s time to sit your butt down and listen up!
“Breakfast” literally means to break the fast. When we sleep at night, we are fasting (not eating food) and not consciously moving our muscles; this causes a lowering of our body temperature. In the morning it’s best to break-the-fast with something warm to help heat the body and slowly bring it up to speed (metabolic speed). Eating something ice cold (think frozen smoothie or cold cereal with milk) requires extra effort from the body to stoke our digestive fire. Over time, consistently eating iced or cold food in the morning can exhaust energy reserves.
Many cultures around the world traditionally ate warm soft porridges or gruel, and a variety of soups or congees made from cooked rice, corn, rye, and other grains combined with water, animal milk, or coconut milk for breakfast. Some heartier breakfast options included eggs, bacon, and sausages. And, on a lighter note, warm tea or coffee with whole grain bread and butter was another simple way to start the day. Below is a quick overview of some traditional breakfasts from around the globe:
Africa – fermented porridge called Ogi, made from corn and milk.
Britain and Ireland – grain porridge, eggs, bacon, black pudding (sausage prepared with boiled animal blood – this is also a favorite breakfast treat for vampires).
Denmark – soft boiled eggs, warm bread with butter or cheese.
India – steamed rice with coconut milk (Ganji), fermented rice with dal (made from lentils or other legumes), warm breads with fresh butter and tea.
Japan – okayu (rice boiled in 5 times the amount of water), eggs, pickles, miso, seafood, warm tea.
Russia – kasha, eggs, meats, whole grain breads with butter, oatmeal.
Scandinavia – whole grain porridges, eggs, cured meat, whole grain bread.
South America – tortillas (flat bread made from maize or wheat), arepas (bread made from corn), meat, beans, coffee, bread with butter.
It seems all over the world, warm breakfast was an important start to the day. Even in fairy tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears had a piping bowl of hot porridge on the morning menu. Warm breakfast foods ready our digestive system for absorption and assimilation of nutrients.
In the past one hundred years or so, we have radically altered that traditional warm morning start and now begin the day with the exact opposite: frozen smoothies, hard cereals with ice-cold milk; or worse yet… skip breakfast entirely. Egads! This can be a recipe for disaster.
For the sake of convenience and time, cold boxed cereals took the place of warm homemade whole grain porridges. This unhealthful takeover may have occurred when women stopped cooking in the kitchen and started working outside the home. Without mom cooking breakfast, the kiddies and the men were left to fend for themselves. Our loved ones need nutritional guidance, and they’re certainly not going to get it reading the back of a highly processed cereal box.
On a recent visit to the supermarket, I discovered Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, and Cookie Crisp (and many other highly processed cereals) stamped with a “Whole Grain Guaranteed” label. Besides being a very distant-cousin-once-removed from the whole grain family, the ingredients that make Lucky Charms “magically delicious” are various types of sugar, corn syrup, and dextrose (more sugar). And, as far as Cocoa Puffs and Cookie Crisp go… well… let’s just say I believe they are “Crack in a Box.” The glycemic index on these and other highly refined sugar-coated breakfast cereals is so high it can have kids (and adults) bouncing off the walls, unable to concentrate at school or work, and doped up on Attention Deficit Disorder drugs.
For those of you doing a mad dash out of the house in the morning without eating breakfast – yikes! It’s time to slow down and enjoy a warm bowl of morning porridge; or, at the very least, sit down to a cup of tea with whole grain bread and a little pat of butter. Skipping breakfast contributes to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and mood swings, and has been linked to higher rates of obesity. And, get this –skipping breakfast has also been associated with many other bad habits: lack of exercise, smoking, and caffeine/drug/alcohol addiction. Holy Whole Grain Porridge, Goldilocks — imagine that!
The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide states that breakfast is imperative because “the brain needs a fresh supply of glucose, its main energy source, because it has no stored reserves.” Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast perform better at both work and school, have a better attitude, higher productivity, more strength and endurance, and improved concentration and memory. Wow! This means we have the opportunity to begin the day smarter, stronger, healthier, more focused, and even more fabulous. What could be better than that?
Rise and shine – it’s time for breakfast! Below is one of my favorites. Or, click here for a fun Breakfast Porridge. What is your favorite way to start the day?