Why Should We Bother to Explore Other Breakfast Options when Lucky Charms is Already a Thing?
Pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, toast, muffins, donuts, bagels–it seems like all of breakfast is grain-based!
I consider a successful breakfast to be one that gives me enough energy to sustain my activities for the morning. It keeps me feeling satisfied until lunch. Let’s evaluate the success of grain-based breakfasts based on that metric.
Grains are Sugar
The glycemic load measures the extent to which a serving of a given food affects our blood sugar levels (as opposed to glycemic index, which compares foods by grams–I think GL is more meaningful, personally, but you get similar results with either measure). Foods with a high glycemic load are broken down into sugar very quickly and give our bodies a sugar rush, which is followed by that sluggish “food coma” feeling when the insulin kicks in.
Here is a list of the glycemic loads per serving of some standard breakfast foods and junk foods:
- Instant Oatmeal–30
- White Bagel, plain–25
- Vanilla Cake with frosting–24
- Orange Fanta–23
- Cream of Wheat–22
That’s right; as far as our pancreas is concerned, if we’re going to eat a bagel, we might as well be eating cake.
What about Whole Grains?
Whole grains do have lower glycemic loads. But they also have a bunch of other bad stuff.
For instance, grains contain phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that binds to (or chelates) important vitamins and minerals, keeping them from being absorbed by your body. By preventing vitamin and mineral absorption, the phytic acid in grains contributes to things like osteoporosis and tooth decay. Since the majority of phytic acid is found in the germ, whole grains are higher in anti-nutrients than grains that have had the germ removed. (In other words, white rice is less toxic than brown rice.)
They’re also high in lectins, which perforate the gut, causing unpleasant bathroom symptoms as well as systemic inflammation, which can exacerbate things like allergies, asthma, and arthritis, among other things.
And just because something says “whole-grain” on the package does not mean that it contains intact, whole grains. The FDA allows food manufacturers to process grains into their bran, endosperm, and germ, and then remix them–and as long as they contain roughly the same mix as naturally occurs, they are allowed to call these highly processed foods “whole-grain.”
You know those peaks and valleys you feel in your energy levels? How you eat a ton of food but then you’re starving an hour later? Or how you have to graze or eat small snacks throughout the day to keep your energy levels up? That’s because your body is addicted to glucose and isn’t adapted to burning fat for energy instead.
Here is a fun series of blog posts. I enjoyed reading all of them and recommend that you give them a try too, but I have also summarized them for your convenience.
When we give our bodies lots of cheap and easy energy in the form of glucose, they lose the ability to burn fat instead. Plus, sugar rushes feel good to our brains and bodies–but they feel less good as we get fatter, so we keep having to eat more and more sugar/carbs to keep up.
Part II: Adjacent to this Complete Breakfast (what an excellent headline)
All cereal, even cereal marketed as “healthy,” is just sugar.
It doesn’t matter how complex your carbohydrates are. It matters whether you eat fat, because adding fat mutes the glycemic impact of your carbohydrates. The butter is the healthiest part of your toast.
Most of us have adapted to burning glucose as our primary source of fuel, since it’s quick and easy for the body to use right away. But actually, fat is our body’s preferred energy source! Plus, it is more satiating than carbs, and it has a lower glycemic load (pretty much 0, actually); so when we regularly eat a diet with plenty of good fat, our energy levels are stable, and we never feel starving, even if it has been a few hours since our last meal or snack.
So What’s for Breakfast?
I began this post by sharing what I believe to be the point of breakfast: basically, keeping me full until lunch. With a breakfast of sugar (bagels, toast, etc.), my blood sugar surges, then crashes, leaving me “starving” and hankering for my next fix in just an hour or two. That fails my test of a successful breakfast.
So what passes? Hang tight. That’s coming soon.