Christa Crawford, MA
Breakfast is always a hot topic in health and weight loss circles. After all, it’s “the most important meal of the day!” It’s no wonder we’re bombarded with commercials for cereals, whole grain waffles, on-the-go breakfast bars, and protein shakes. As much as we here at Training for Life love to buck conventional dietary advice, we’re on board with the notion that breakfast is important. While some people are able to skip breakfast and thrive, most of us wake up hungry. If you skip breakfast, you may be more inclined to let down your dietary guards in order to satisfy your hunger.
So how do you choose breakfast foods that will help you achieve your weight loss goals? It helps to look at the impact your breakfast will have on your blood sugar. One way to do this is to consider the glycemic indexes of different foods. The glycemic index ranks foods on a scale from 0 – 100, with 100 being pure glucose. The GI of a food is based on the effect it has on blood sugar levels. Even conventional dietary wisdom acknowledges that choosing low glycemic foods can help with weight loss and maintenance.
One popular “healthy” breakfast option is oatmeal. It’s high in fiber and low in fat. It doesn’t have the cholesterol of a butter-fried egg, and plain oatmeal has no added sugar. Quaker makes sure to remind us of all the superness of oatmeal.
But is oatmeal all it’s cracked up to be? The glycemic index of steel cut oats ranges between 52 and 57. It qualifies as a medium GI food. Instant oatmeal, the more popular variety, has a glycemic index ranging from 69 to 83. This puts oatmeal in the high GI category, and that’s before you put anything fun in your bowl!
How many people do you know who eat plain oatmeal? Most people prefer to add something to their oatmeal to make it more interesting. Some typical choices are honey, brown sugar, milk, and fruit –especially bananas and raisins. Let’s say you start with a bowl of Quaker oatmeal. It already has a high glycemic index and a hefty dose of carbohydrates. By the time you add a splash of vanilla soy milk, raisins, half a banana, and a teaspoon of honey, you’re looking at a very sugary, high glycemic breakfast. Might as well have a piece of birthday cake.
When you’ve gone all night without eating, the effect of that oatmeal with all its sugary bling is especially pronounced. It causes a sharp rise in blood sugar, a high insulin response, and a brutal blood sugar crash. I don’t know about you, but that makes me starving and grumpy within two hours. That’s no way to lose weight.
Whole Wheat Bread
Oatmeal isn’t the only problematic “healthy” breakfast. Whole wheat, in its many costumes, has fleeced health-conscious Americans for too long. A slice of whole wheat bread has an average glycemic index of 71. Its wicked stepsister, white bread, has a glycemic index of –wait for it–71! That’s right– whole wheat bread packs the same blood sugar punch as white bread. Despite its celebrity health food status, whole wheat bread has a dramatic effect on blood sugar, insulin response, and weight maintenance. According to Harvard Health Publications, whole wheat has a higher glycemic index than Coca Cola, ice cream, or a Snicker’s bar… and that’s just one slice! Any decent fried egg sandwich has two slices of bread. Whole wheat bagels, waffles, cereals, and pancakes are usually even worse, thanks to extra processing and added sugar.
Insulin and Fat Storage
So what’s the problem with high blood sugar anyway? The higher your blood sugar is, the more insulin your body will release. Insulin converts glucose to glycogen, which is stored in the muscle cells, liver cells, and fat cells. We need some glycogen for energy. However, any excess glycogen is converted to fat and stored as saddlebags or a muffin top. High blood sugar and its companion insulin wreak havoc on people who are trying to lose weight. Fat is not what makes us fat. Sugar is what makes us fat.
What I Eat for Breakfast
I wake up very early, and there are about six hours between my breakfast and lunch. Eating a high-carb, whole grain breakfast is the worst thing I could do if I don’t want to be hungry or heavy. Rather than starting my day with an overdose of insulin, I make it a goal to eat as much protein, pastured animal fat, and monounsaturated fat as I can. Eggs are the heroes of my breakfast plate. I like them scrambled in butter, alongside crispy, farm-fresh bacon and half an avocado. Give me that breakfast with some black coffee in a china cup, and I’m happy and full all morning long. To mix it up, I also like to make frittatas once in a while. They’re easy to make ahead of time and quick to reheat before work. On weekends, we usually cook up a sweet potato hash or some breakfast sausage.
There’s no rule that says you have to eat breakfast foods for breakfast. It’s perfectly fine and delicious to grill up a steak or pork chop in the morning! Dinner leftovers make great breakfasts.
For More Information…
If you’d like to do your own reading about wheat, it’s worth it to check out Dr. William Davis‘ article here. He is a cardiologist who has written extensively about wheat and its many harmful side effects. If you’re interested in learning more about the mechanisms that are responsible for fat storage, I recommend checking out this article. It was written by a Ph.D. who did eight years of postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center. Are you feeling indignant about all the lies we’ve been told about nutrition? Coincidentally, so is Gary Taubes. He writes about that here.
When you do your own research, please remember to share what you find. This blog is intended to encourage conversation, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. And by all means, please let me know if you have a great breakfast recipe! I’d love to share it on the blog.