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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's a Healthy Breakfast? - It's Not What You May Think

Not So Fast Buddy

I'm constantly asked by clients and other people what they should eat for breakfast.  Then when I give them the answer they give me a strange look, say something like "I just can't eat xyz in the morning", or  have no response (typically a way of saying I think you're crazy, there's no way I'm going to eat that, but I'm not going to say it to your face).  The reality is this - you can choose to eat whatever you want for breakfast, just be prepared to accept the consequences.

If you're like most people, you have a certain idea of what constitutes acceptable breakfast fare and are highly resistant to eating anything that falls outside of that norm.  Typically it's whatever you grew up eating or what the media has convinced you to eat, healthy or not.  Instead of me telling you eat this, don't eat that, lets look a little closer at what a huge majority of people eat for breakfast.  In light of my How You Get Fat series of articles, it should quite quickly become abundantly clear as to what is healthy and what is not...especially with regards to fat loss.

Lets look some very common breakfast selections and how they stack up in terms of nutrients and effects on fat loss...

Bagel (plain) - 245 cals, 45 grams carbs, 10 grams protein, 1.5 grams fat - bagels are highly processed products that you would never find growing in nature,  they are full of quick digesting carbs, who knows how many chemicals, preservatives and other additives - not including anything you put on the bagel

Juice (orange) - 112 cals, 27 grams carbs, 2 grams protein, 0 grams fat - juice is junk food, period, all juice found in stores is pasteurized (i.e. cooked, thus nutrients are destroyed and synthetic ones added), full of sugar and will destabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels leading to fat gain.  Warning: even smoothies you make at home have large amounts of sugar and unless you are a full time athlete you will likely store these calories as fat.  Most people I know who make smoothies don't eat hardly any protein and fat with them.  People are not designed to eat liquefied fruit, fruit was only seasonally available and eaten in limited quantities through most of human history.

Cereal (cheerios) - 103 cals, 21 grams carbs, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fat - most if not all boxed breakfast cereals in the US are not healthy, they are loaded with refined, quick digesting grains, gmo's and other additives such as synthetic vitamins, sweeteners and preservatives.  Despite many people's attachment to and perception that they are healthy, they are not, and should be avoided if you care about your health.  Major blood sugar destabilizer and catalyst for that mid-morning need for caffeine and more sugar.

Oatmeal (plain) - 307 cals, 56 grams carbs, 11 grams protein, 5 grams fat - while considered a health food by virtually everyone, for most oatmeal is just another source of sugar - it has a large number of carbs and is hard to digest for people who are either gluten intolerant or have other digestive issues due to stress, poor eating habits etc...if you want to lose fat you shouldn't be eating oatmeal.

Toast (plain wheat) - 69 cals, 13 grams carbs, 3 grams protein, 1 gram fat
Muffin (blueberry) - 426 cals, 61 grams carbs, 5 grams protein, 18 grams fat
Donut (w/chocolate) - 195 cals, 22 grams carbs, 2 grams protein, 11 grams fat

Each of these 3 aforementioned items are nothing more than processed and refined grains (i.e. sugars) - with the muffin and donut being loaded with bad fats...none of them are good for you if you are trying to lose fat.  Each promote inflammation in the body (sugar, grains) and will throw your blood sugar and insulin out of whack quickly.

Yogurt (plain low fat) - 174 cals 17 grams carbs, 14 grams protein, 3 grams fat - dairy is a common allergen and virtually all yogurt comes from pasteurized milk (hard to digest) while it may be ok for some people, dairy causes more problems than it's worth.  You may be thinking you're getting your probiotics and calcium here but this is highly unlikely as the number of live probiotic cultures in most store bought yogurt is not enough to do any good while the calcium and other vitamins are difficult to absorb - particularly for those with poor digestive systems and nutrient deficiencies.

Cottage Cheese (low fat) - 163 cals 6 grams carbs, 28 grams protein, 2 grams fat - also a dairy product, with similar issues as yogurt, however, if you can tolerate dairy it can be an ok form of protein...but unless you are buying organic it will likely cause more harm than good if you want to lose weight...conventional store bought dairy products are not health foods and thus should be extremely limited in most people's diets.

Fruit (apple) - 95 cals, 25 grams carbs, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fat - most average inactive people, which is most everyone that has a job sitting at a desk, cannot handle more than 1-2 pieces of fruit per day, especially if you are looking to lose fat...while fruit doesn't destabilize your blood sugar immediately it does get turned to fat when your body is already overloaded on sugars (this is most everyone who needs to lose body fat).

Breakfast Bar (Luna bar) - 25 grams carbs, 9 grams protein, 7 grams fat - loaded with various refined sugars, soy, and other flavorings - despite this being recommended by Fitness Magazine as a best breakfast bar it's nothing more than a candy bar and you should not eat it or 99% of the other so-called "nutrition bars" on the market.

If you're getting frustrated at this point, thinking you can't eat anything your used to eating, it shouldn't be a surprise.  Like they always say, if you keep doing what you've always done you'll keep getting the same old results.  Most of the food people purchase from standard supermarkets is not healthy and leads to the situation we have currently (i.e. most people being fat and unhealthy).  I'm not saying change everything in your life instantly, but what I am saying is that in order to make the progress you want you will have to make massive changes a little bit at a time.  If you're not willing to do so then you can expect to remain frustrated with your inability to lose fat.  You can't undo what's been done over many years in just a few months, unless you're into extreme measures which are high risk and have many not so good side effects.

Egg - 71 cals, 0 carbs, 6 grams protein, 5 grams fat - eggs are one of the healthiest things you can eat, eat the whole egg, eating just the egg white is a complete waste of money as the majority of the nutrients are in the yolk....they won't raise your cholesterol assuming you don't overcook them (i.e. soft boiled and poached are best)  be careful with eggs as they are a common allergen so don't eat them every day.

Coffee (black) - no carbs, proteins, or fats and about 100 mg caffeine - coffee can be ok for some people, depends on your ability to process the caffeine - either way it's not something you want to have by itself, particularly in the morning as it ramps up cortisol, shoots up blood sugar and precipitates a rapid mid-morning crash...if you're looking to lose fat the only time to have caffeine is just before a workout.

Bacon - 133 cals, 0 carbs, 11 grams protein, 10 grams fat - despite the popular belief that bacon is bad for you, it's actually good for you if you buy the organic unprocessed type that comes from properly raised animals (free range/pastured, hormone/antibiotic free, that eat their natural diet)

Sausage - 90 cals, 0 carbs, 14 grams protein, 8 grams fat - same goes for sausage, it depends on how the animals were raised along with how the sausage was made and processed.  Standard grocery store brands are not healthy, you have to get the organic stuff.

A great guide for grocery shopping that gives you easy to understand guidelines in a visually appealing format is Rich Food Poor Food by Jayson and Mira Calton.

Pancake - 175 cals, 22 grams carbs, 5 grams protein, 7 grams fat - again just another refined grain product that most of the time has many preservatives and other additives...a quick digesting carb that will mess up your blood sugar levels and insulin...also likely contains gmo ingredients and does nothing but promote fat gain in most people.

French Toast - 149 cals, 16 grams carbs, 5 grams protein, 7 grams fat - while there may be some protein, with the egg involved (though it's likely overcooked and thus damaged), this is another refined grain that will digest quickly and shoot your blood sugar up (never seen anyone have this without syrup which just adds more sugar)!

While you may need to get past some psychological barriers at first, the one thing you must understand is that to lose fat you are better off eating the same types of foods for breakfast as you would eat at any other time of day.  In fact, I routinely eat for breakfast what most people would consider "non-breakfast" foods.  For example, I'll eat some type of ground meat, steak, chicken, pork with a salad or other veggies.  If you've never tried eating meat for breakfast you should, you'll be much more alert and focused through the morning hours and you won't be ravenous and looking for that mid-morning caffeine and sugar laden pick-me-up.

You may have been surprised when you found out how most of these popular breakfast foods stack up in terms of carbs, proteins and fats.  Knowing the fact that controlling blood sugar and insulin levels are the keys to fat loss, it becomes readily apparent that many of these common breakfast foods are not good for you if you want to lose fat and be healthy.  Of course, controlling insulin is not only the key to fat loss, but also the key to avoiding many of the other health related problems (diabetes, heart disease, cancer etc) that manifest over time when blood sugar and insulin levels are out balance.  The good thing is that insulin is the one hormone that you have complete control of via what you put in your mouth.  Thus by choosing the right combination of foods, whether it's for breakfast or any other meal, you will be well on your way to losing fat while improving your health and minimizing your risk of getting the chronic diseases that will make your life miserable and likely much shorter.

Share in the comments below what you eat for breakfast and I'll give you my evaluation and recommendations.




Ted Gerns said...

While a lot of everything you've said makes sense, I'd be interested in a bit more detail on some of the points:

1) Cereal, you singled out cheerios which grabbed my attention as that is currently part of my daily breakfast. Even Dr. Oz includes this as part of his list of healthy possible breakfasts. What, in particular, is bad, and what would you suggest to replace such an easy breakfast that I can bring to work.

2) Smoothies, you included this in part of your 'juices' section, but said most people aren't doing it right. So how would one do it right? My daily smoothie consists of:
about 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup probiotic juice(, a handful of spinach, a banana, tablespoon of wheat germ, and roughly a 1/2 cup of frozen fruits to liven up the taste. What should I add or remove from that recipe? (all measurements are guesses as I just throw everything in as I go)

Thanks, for the tips, always a great read.

Mark said...

Thanks for your comments, happy you enjoy reading my blog!

1) The reason I mentioned Cheerios is because it's the #1 selling cereal in the US. I'd encourage you to read the following article on Cheerios it details many concerns. Additionally, because Cheerios are highly processed quick digesting carbs they will shoot your blood sugar and insulin up which contributes to increased body fat.

2) The issue with smoothies is the fact that they contain large amounts of sugar and won't provide satiety for long. The best fruits to use are berries as they have the highest antioxidant levels. You should always eat a protein and fat prior to having a smoothie. I'm talking about meats, eggs, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil etc. This will slow down the digestion of the sugars and keep your hormonal environment more favorable for fat loss. I would avoid bananas as they have relatively low antioxidant levels and are very high in sugar. As far as a probiotic I recommend Prescript Assist, it's just a pill you take daily and it works the best of any I've used.

Ted, hopefully I've answered your questions and please let me know if you have any others.

Ted Gerns said...

Mark thanks for the reply! I'll take this extra info into account and change my morning routine accordingly.

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