I have always liked the expression: “breakfast of champions.” It kind of channels the way your day really should start.
During my formative years at the skydiving drop zone, I would grab a cup of joe at the local fast food joint at first light, and mumble, “this tastes like rhinoceros bile” while climbing to altitude.
I would hand my empty cup to the pilot, and jump. The cool air on a summer morning felt just like jumping into a cool electric blue pool. Definitely a great wake-up call! Bad coffee and a skydive, that was my “breakfast of champions,” or at least my view of it, as a 20-year-old.
Breakfast is probably the most misunderstood meal of the day. The public’s view of a good breakfast covers the gamut from a quad-espresso, through biscuits and gravy, to steak and eggs.
Of course, another popular item on the breakfast menu is “nothing at all” – almost a third of us choose to skip breakfast entirely. Most overweight folks believe skipping breakfast is a no-brainer toward weight loss. After all, who gets up feeling like eating?
It turns out that most of your day is set up by your breakfast or lack of one. We have known for a long time that skipping breakfast wasn’t the best choice for obesity – people get heavier, not lighter. It seems we make up those calories, and then some, by snacking more on worse food as the day progresses.
When we look at people who skip breakfast, they keep unsavory company. People who skip breakfast are more likely to smoke, drink and be overweight. These people are also less likely to exercise, and perhaps not surprisingly, they are more likely single. Yes, being single is a significant risk factor for increased mortality for all causes (cancer to suicide).
But we have gone down the guilt-by-association road before. Coffee was considered an unhealthy beverage for years just because most people had a cigarette with their morning coffee. By the way – it isn’t the coffee that is unhealthy!
And it is certainly possible that some of these risk factors are tangled up with each other and are unfairly maligning skipping breakfast. For instance, maybe smoking cigarettes makes breakfast taste bad, or when you wake up with a hangover you sure don’t feel like eating.
But recent studies have controlled these variables and isolated the breakfast/no breakfast phenomenon. That means they make the breakfast and no-breakfast groups equal in other risk factors, like smoking, drinking and obesity.
When we do that there are more heart attacks among the no breakfast eaters. There are also changes in your body that are linked to things like heart attacks and strokes. Non-breakfast eaters have higher blood pressure, worse cholesterol and stress hormones.
We know this to be a fact, but we are still struggling with the whys and wherefores. Current thinking is that the overnight fast is stressful to our systems and we need fuel pretty soon after waking up.
Prolong the fast and typical stress changes can be seen in the blood. One of the things you learn in medical school is the importance of homeostasis – keeping an even physiologic keel.
Bodies (and children) seem to like routine. People don’t do well when they go to bed at radically different times or alternate starving with feasting like a Viking. A lot of energy is spent on evening things out that could better be used for something else – like building muscle or learning something new.
One of the great health victories of the 21st century is whole grain cereals. It is difficult to find non-whole grain cereals even amongst those designed to attract kids (choco-sugar-bomb-marshmallow whatever…).
Do something decent for yourself in the morning: A bowl of cereal with skim milk is a great start. Need some variety? Try fruit yogurt or get creative and throw juice, frozen fruit, yogurt and a banana in a blender – it’s a slice of breakfast heaven.
Have a good morning.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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