It's often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The truth is: not really. In fact, breakfast is no more important than any other meal, or snack for that matter. Everything you eat is important in that it can either advance your health or harm it. Make no mistake, a double cheeseburger with extra special sauce, biggie fires, and a large vegetable-oil-based "shake" is just as important as any breakfast because of the amount of harm it can do you. On the other hand, a large fresh salad (I'm talking about a real salad with tons of fresh ingredients -- not iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a half cup of bottled Italian dressing) for lunch is also important because of all the antioxidants and water soluble fiber it can provide.
That said, breakfast is indeed important, and truth be told, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding it.
The conventional wisdom
According to the Mayo Clinic, breakfast "might be the last thing on your morning to-do list, or worse, it might not be on your list at all. But a healthy breakfast refuels your body, jump-starts your day and may even benefit your overall health. So don't skip this meal -- it may be more important than you think." They then go on to talk about the benefits for adults, which center on the fact that when you eat a healthy breakfast, you're more likely to:
- Eat more vitamins and minerals
- Eat less fat and cholesterol
- Have better concentration and productivity throughout the morning
- Control your weight
- Have lower cholesterol, which may reduce your risk of heart disease
The Mayo Clinic article also mentions that according to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:
- Concentrate better
- Have better problem-solving skills
- Have better hand-eye coordination
- Be more alert
- Be more creative
- Miss fewer days of school
- Be more physically active
This is all good stuff. What's to argue with? In fact, nothing -- that is until we get to their dietary recommendations.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here's what forms the core of a healthy breakfast:
- Whole grains. Options include whole-grain rolls, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, low-fat bran muffins, crackers, or Melba toast.
- Low-fat protein. Options include hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, lean slices of meat and poultry, or fish, such as water-packed tuna or slices of salmon.
- Low-fat dairy. Options include skim milk, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses.
- Fruits and vegetables. Options include fresh fruits and vegetables or 100 percent juice beverages without added sugar.
Again, what's to complain about? After all, this is "the conventional wisdom" and is repeated by everyone connected with the medical community. Search on "breakfast" at WebMD, and you'll get much the same result -- although they're big on "egg substitutes" as opposed to real eggs.
The problem (or the devil, as the old saying goes) is in the details. With that in mind, let's look at some of those details.
It is amazing how people can pull a one-eighty without batting an eye. For years, the alternative health community touted the advantages of whole grains over refined grains, only to be told "tosh, tosh" by the medical establishment. "Refined grains are perfectly healthy and because they are ‘enriched' are actually even healthier for you than whole grains. Relax. Chill out. Eat cold cereals. Eat pastries. They're an important part of a healthy breakfast."
And then over the years, the evidence began to pile up that whole grains provided benefits that refined grains did not. So without batting an eye, the medical establishment did a one-eighty and began pushing the value of whole grain. So far, no problem there! If you've got something wrong and you learn a better way, it would be stupid not to switch. My problem is that there was no acknowledgement of the switch (as though they never gave you wrong advice in the first place, at great detriment to your health) and there was no acknowledgement that the alternative health community was correct decades before the medical establishment. No tip of the hat. Nothing…just continued dismissal of everything the alternative health community currently stands for, as though they were never right about those things that the medical establishment has now co-opted, such as the use of whole grains. Shame on them!
But that's not the worst part.
The problem is that because the establishment is late to the cause of whole grains, they don't really understand the issue yet. In other words, they get it wrong. They seem to believe that it's simply a question of whole grains versus refined grains. If only!
In truth, there's more to the story of whole grains than meets the eye. When it comes to incorporating grains into your diet, there are a whole slew of other issues that need to be considered, including:
- The different types of fiber in grains and why those differences matter.
- How different grains affect body pH.
- The different amino acid balance in each grain.
- Why the manner in which whole grains are processed and cooked matters, and why the temperature they're cooked at makes a difference.
- When whole grain is not actually whole grain.
- Phytates -- the good and bad.
- Short chain carbohydrates versus long chain carbohydrates versus ultra-long chain carbohydrates.
- Highly allergenic versus hypoallergenic grains
- The other phytochemicals that matter.
- The differences in how grains are grown and why it matters.
- Organic versus non-organic.
For more on the complete story behind grains and how to select those that you might want to incorporate into your diet, check out "The Whole Grain and Nothing but the Grain."
Although the Mayo Clinic seems to recommend whole eggs in one location on their website, they do not, for the most part, on the rest of their site. More typical is their statement that "if you like eggs but don't want the extra cholesterol, use only the egg whites." In fact, this sentiment is common on most "medically" based sites. The reasoning is simple: "Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, and a diet high in cholesterol can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels." In truth, the story concerning eggs is far more nuanced than the medical community would have you think, and we'll return to it in a bit. But for now let's quickly take a look at the other "low-fat" proteins they recommend.
Peanut butter is second on the list, but at 16 grams of fat and around 200 calories per two-tablespoon serving, peanut butter is obviously not a low-fat, low-calorie food. As for the low-fat varieties, they tend to be high in sugar. But that's not the biggest problem with peanuts. That happens to be allergic reactions. As it turns out, a number of people have severe allergic reactions to peanut butter, even the smallest traces of it, and even to the point of death. And it's not just allergies. Would-be mothers should avoid peanut butter as regular consumption increases the likelihood of their baby being asthmatic. A better choice all the way around is almond butter.
As for the meat and poultry recommendations, the standard meat and poultries used for breakfast tend to be high fat or highly processed, which presents its own health issues. Eating lean processed meat may reduce your risk of heart disease, but it increases your risk of cancer.
And as for tuna fish, I'm not sure who eats it for breakfast, but if they do on a regular basis, they're going to have a problem with high mercury levels over time if they use any of the standard commercial brands. On the other hand, if your heart is set on tuna, Oregon's Choice actually sells a low-mercury tuna. And if you're going to eat tuna, why would you eat any other kind?
As I've made clear many times, I'm not a great fan of pasteurized, homogenized, commercial cow's milk. Goat's milk is a better choice if you can handle the taste. And if you're going to consume dairy, my strong preference would be for raw, organic -- despite the warnings from the FDA and local health officials. That said, what's with low-fat dairy? When will the medical establishment ever understand that "whole" is better than "refined?" Didn't we just cover this issue concerning grains? But to stay on point, there are two issues to consider when considering whole versus low-fat milk.
First of all, the fat content difference between whole milk and low-fat milk is not as great as you might think. Whole milk contains about 8 grams of fat per glass. Skim milk contains about 5 grams. The difference is a mere 3 grams of fat per breakfast. Given that the RDI for fat each day is 65 grams, 3 grams of fat doesn't really matter very much. And second, the fats in milk are instrumental when it comes to helping your body utilize the protein found in milk.
And then there's the issue of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a beneficial fat found in the milk of grass fed cows. Reduce the fat content of milk and you reduce the CLA content. Researchers who conducted animal studies with CLA found that this fatty acid inhibits several types of cancer in mice. In addition, test tube studies indicate that CLA kills human skin cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast-cancer cells. Other research on CLA suggests that it may also help lower cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis.
So once again, we see that whole is better than processed, or as the old ads used to say, "You can't fool Mother Nature."
Fruits and vegetables
According to the Mayo clinic, options include fresh fruits and vegetables (which are okay with a caveat) or "100 percent juice beverages" (beverages being an interesting choice of words here) without added sugar. So once again, the medical community does not recognize the difference between fresh juices and processed juices. They would equate a box of Juicy Juice with a glass of fresh squeezed carrot juice. Norman Walker must be turning over in his grave.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, not all are created equal. With fruits, for example, berries are better than bananas -- higher in antioxidants and lower on the glycemic scale. Vegetables, in general, are better than fruits in that they tend to keep the body more alkaline than fruits. And finally, fresh is way better than boxed or bottled. Also, keep in mind that fresh juices start oxidizing within minutes of juicing, so the fresher the better. On the other hand, pasteurized bottled/boxed fruit "beverages" last forever -- unfortunately, at that point they are little more than flavored sugar water. Heat destroys the living enzymes in the juice and damages most of the vitamins and antioxidants.
As I mentioned earlier, the issue of eggs is far more nuanced than, "Whole eggs bad! Egg whites good!" The reasoning, of course, is that, "Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, and a diet high in cholesterol can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels." But in truth, most studies seem to demonstrate that this simple logic does not apply to eggs. For example, a 2007 study of some 10,000 adults demonstrated no correlation between moderate egg consumption (about 5 eggs per week) and cardiovascular disease or strokes, except for diabetics for whom eggs presented a small increased risk of heart disease. But even there, other factors may be at play, including how the eggs were cooked -- which we'll talk about in a moment. The bottom line when it comes to cholesterol and eggs is that there is a large body of epidemiological research (over 117,000 subjects, in fact) showing that the overall adjusted risk for heart disease is identical whether participants eat no eggs at all, or seven or more per week.
Okay, so even if whole eggs don't increase cholesterol levels, is there any reason to eat egg yolks since they're mostly fat and just pack on the calories. Aren't egg whites still a better choice? And the simple answer is no, egg whites are not a better choice. And yes, you still want to eat egg yolks. Other than the protein found in egg whites, all of the nutrition associated with eggs is in the yolk. Yolks contain large amounts of Omega-3s (especially if the chickens are fed a diet that contains seeds high in Omega-3 oils), and protein (yes, the yolk contains significant amounts of protein), not to mention an abundance of fat soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K. A single egg yolk can provide 100% of your RDI for each of those vitamins.
So when it comes to the issue of eating egg whites over whole eggs, don't listen to the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. Whole eggs win hands down.
Cooking eggs, on the other hand, does present a problem since heat denatures proteins. However, don't panic yet. Moderate heat over a short time such as when boiling a 2 minute egg does not harm the proteins too much. However, high heat or moderate heat over a longer time is a different story. We're talking about high temperature frying or scrambling eggs until totally dry or using the eggs in a baked dish that cooks at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 20 minutes or longer. These things will cause heat damage to the proteins and irreversibly change their nutritive values.
High temperatures not only physically and chemically denature the egg protein, but they also destroy almost all the vitamins, especially vitamin E and some of the B vitamins. It also should be noted that heat doesn't just damage protein; it also oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg, which will increase the risk of atherosclerosis. This is the one and only advantage egg whites have over yolks since egg whites contain no fat and are not oxidized by heat.
Allergens in eggs
But all this being said, we still haven't touched on my primary objection to eggs -- allergens. Of all the primary protein sources that people use (dairy, soy, meat, fish, etc.), eggs are among the most likely to produce an allergic response in the body. In fact, egg allergies are the most common trigger of eczema. They can also cause hives, redness and swelling of the skin, and in extreme cases anaphylactic shock. The primary allergens are found in egg whites and include lysozymes (an enzyme closely related to alpha-lactalbumin, a primary allergen in whey products), ovomucoid, ovotransferrin, and ovalbumin. Of these, ovalbumin and ovomucoid are the most common egg allergens. Egg yolks also have several proteins which may be allergens -- vosvetin, apovitillin, and livetin.
The bottom line is that a discussion of eggs for breakfast that centers on cholesterol is missing the point. Cholesterol is not an issue for eggs. Allergies, on the other hand, definitely are. And keep in mind that I'm not necessarily talking about major allergic reactions that can be seen. Those only occur in a small number of adults. We're talking about low-level allergies that cause symptoms like:
- Reduced absorption of nutrients
- Low level headaches and body aches
- Increased mucous production as seen floating in the toilet water, or as evidenced by constant clearing of the throat.
These are the same low level responses seen by those who use dairy as their primary source of protein. And unlike the medical community that believes that allergic responses to egg and dairy protein are rare occurrences outside of childhood, my observation is that these allergies affect almost 100% of the population. The only question is the degree of reaction. Most of the time, the symptoms are very low level and only noticed once you start looking for them. Sometimes dramatic improvements in health and a feeling of well being can be achieved simply by eliminating these allergens from your diet -- even for those who never knew they had a problem. In any case, that's why I favor hypoallergenic proteins that bypass these problems for the most and which we'll talk about next.
What's for breakfast
In the end, what you're looking for when it comes to breakfast is a balanced meal that combines with the other meals that you eat during the day to provide 100% of your nutritional needs (protein, essential fatty acids, fiber, vitamins/minerals, phytochemicals, etc.) by the end of the day. That means you want to consume approximately 33% of your requirements for everything at breakfast. Of these requirements, we've spent a lot of time talking about protein only because that's one of the hardest components to get right. It's either high fat, highly processed, highly allergenic, or just plain deficient. Let's look at some of the typical breakfasts and see how they stack up against our nutritional needs.
- Ham and eggs (or something similar) does well on the amount of protein, but comes up short for things like fiber, vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, and the eggs are highly allergenic. Turn that into an omelet with added cheese and it's starting to get dangerous. Add a side of home fries and some buttered toast, and you've now got a killer meal!
- Oatmeal is good for fiber, but lacks protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. And if you use cow's milk or soy milk with it, it still comes up short on protein but now you've added an allergenic component. Other hot cereals like Wheatena and Cream of Wheat offer no more positives and have even less soluble fiber.
- Muffins and blueberry Danish, of course, may taste great but offer little value and, in most cases, many negatives.
- Food bars are a better alternative in that the negatives are less, but the protein usually comes from soy or whey. Organic Food Bar™, on the other hand, provides an interesting nutritional alternative. Other than being a little heavy in high-glycemic sugars and low in the vitamin/mineral and phytochemical department, they're pretty clean, and I recommend them. But truth be told, they may leave most people who are used to donuts and Egg McMuffins® feeling unsatisfied.
- Cold cereal. Most commercial cold cereals aren't even worth the ink printed on their box. They're high glycemic, low fiber, low on any nutritional scale, and offer little usable protein. And yes, there are some so called health cereals that use whole grains, but in the end they come up short in almost every category -- just a little less so in terms of fiber and vitamins and minerals. Some manufacturers add a round of synthetic vitamin isolates, which have virtually no nutritive value. I mean how much more would it have cost to use naturally-sourced isolates? And some companies add protein, which marginally increases the protein value of the cereal, but still relies to a large extent on highly allergenic whey or soy. And some add fiber, but come up short everywhere else. And the ones called "Total®" merely take the synthetic vitamin and mineral numbers up to 100%, but come up short everywhere else.
At some point, this would be a project for me to take on. Design a cold cereal based on hypoallergenic proteins that provide a good sized chunk of your daily protein requirements plus a third of your vitamin/mineral requirements, plus fiber and beneficial fats -- and that tastes good. It would be healthier than eggs, more nutritious than other cereals, and more satisfying than food bars and protein shakes. It would be a great option for breakfast. Someday, maybe!
Which brings me to my current breakfast of choice, a well designed shake or smoothie! My protein powder of choice is a combination of rice and pea protein, although hemp protein is certainly another option. These are hypoallergenic and highly usable by the body. And by blending them in the right ratios, it's possible to get a powder that comes close to matching the protein numbers of its more allergenic cousins, whey and egg. Whip that up in a smoothie with a green superfood blend for all of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and some low-glycemic berries for flavor and high antioxidant values and you've got a breakfast that can keep you going for hours -- not to mention one that works for athletes, seniors, and people looking to lose weight too. When it comes to which powders and superfood blends to use, there are many good ones available -- although I'm certainly partial to my own formulations: Nutribody Protein and Jon Barron's Private Reserve Superfood. But that's just me.
One final note
When doing a liver detox, we always begin the day with a glass of water to flush the system. In fact, that's not a bad idea to do every day. Upon rising, at least 20 minutes before eating breakfast, drink a glass of water to flush out your system -- no matter what you eat for breakfast. It will effectively flush out everything in your stomach and intestinal tract up to about the large intestine. Virtually all of the water will have been absorbed in the small intestine by the time it reaches the colon. And any that makes it through will merely help to keep your stools soft. Keep in mind that it's important to drink the water at least 20 minutes before you eat anything for breakfast to allow the water time to clear the stomach. You don't want it sitting in the stomach when you eat food, as it will dilute your digestive juices and interfere with digestion. On the other hand, by interfering with digestion, it will aid in weight-loss, but at significant nutritional cost to your body. There are better ways to lose weight.