Breakfast. Sometimes called the most important meal of the day, I call it the most troublesome. When I wake up in the morning, I feel groggy and it takes a while for my brain cells to settle into their proper places. I do try to get up extra early to compensate for this, but still rarely have the time or energy to cook a complicated breakfast (much less clean up afterwards!).
Aside from the few enviable ‘morning people’ who spring out of bed each morning with bright eyes, most of us face a similar conundrum. I believe this lack of mental clarity in the morning leads us to make more emotional and less rational choices for what to eat in the am than we do at other times of day. In this article, I will share several solutions that have helped me to deal with the breakfast dilemma. At the end, I will share my family’s top-secret recipe for a quick and easy breakfast that is nutritious, detoxifiying, and delicious.
The problem with cold cereal
No wonder so many people resort to cold cereal, pop-tarts, or cereal bars. They are quick, tasty, and look – the box says “fortified with essential nutrients”. But even the advertisements for cold cereal state that it is “part of a complete breakfast” – not a breakfast by itself. And if we had the time and energy to cook that complete breakfast, well we probably wouldn’t choose cereal in addition to eggs and toast.
Many argue the place of these heated, sugared, and extruded grains in our diets at all. Nourishing Traditions is one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s filled with simple traditional recipes from around the world that focus on nutrient-rich foods. According to the author, Sally Fallon “Most, if not all nutrients [in cold cereal] are destroyed during processing and they are very difficult to digest. These whole grain preparations can have even more adverse effects on blood sugar than refined sugar and white flour!”
While cold cereal and other quick fortified foods might taste good and fill our bellies, nutritionally we would be better off fasting until lunch than starting our day with such a sugar bomb.
In fact, fasting until lunch is actually a decent option if you are doing it regularly on purpose – called intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is eating at specific times, but not at others. Most of us already do this – we eat our last meal at 7pm (or whenever) and don’t eat again until 7am. That’s 12 hours of fasting. Some people choose to stretch that out and not eat until noon or a time of their choosing.
If you are used to eating a big breakfast every morning or even just cereal, intermittent fasting could take some getting used to. In my experience, eating habits are deeply emotional and changing them can bring up stuff. That stuff could manifest as grouchiness, anxiety, or some flavor all your own. Experimenting with your diet when you are in a good mental state is a form of svadyaya, or self study. When we can observe our own reactions and triggers, they have less hold over us. We are also then able to avoid our triggers better when we know we are not in our best mental state.
The side effect to IF is that you might lose weight due to your body burning fat rather than sugar during your fasting time. This makes it a poor choice for people who are underweight or trying to keep their weight up (yes, they do exist!). And the caveat for everyone is to only do it if you can stick to it. If you intend to fast, but end up snacking on a muffin (or putting sugar in your coffee) you will completely change the chemical reactions in your body and you are basically back to cold cereal for breakfast. Here’s a more detailed write-up about the basics of intermittent fasting if you want to learn more.
Speaking of coffee and related to intermittent fasting is the newish trend of bulletproof coffee. This is coffee emulsified with high-quality fats such as grass-fed butter and coconut oil. It’s really a lot better than it sounds. When you blend (hot) coffee with these fats in a blender, it creates the texture and color of a cappuccino, including the foam on top. You can add nutmeg or vanilla if you like, but absolutely no sugar (unless you are also eating some protein). This concoction will fill you up without changing your blood chemistry to sugar burning. People who do this report feeling calm yet energized, as though the fats take the edge off the caffeine buzz.
Breakfast Around the World
Another great option is to eat leftovers. Many of us have very strict ideas about what qualifies as breakfast food. However, around the world most cultures eat breakfasts that would look more like lunch or dinner to us. There’s no reason you can’t eat reheated stir-fry, soup, or quiche for breakfast. What we run into is our emotional (not rational) definition of what breakfast looks like. Some of this has to do with what we ate for breakfast as children, but a lot of it was planted into us by advertisers. With self-awareness, we can look at our priorities and make choices that fulfill our most important values rather than our emotional reactions.
Fast & Easy Breakfast Recipe for Gut Health & Detoxification
Personally, I like variety in my diet. So there is no one solution that is going to make me happy every day. Some days I eat left overs, some days I eat eggs & veggies or eggs and rice, or eggs and toast (yes I really do like eggs). Some days I do bulletproof coffee or fast. But approximately 3 days per week, my family starts our day with oatmeal. Now, this isn’t your grandmother’s oatmeal (or maybe it is). My fiancée has been developing this recipe for the past decade or more as a way to get his patients (and himself) to regularly ingest flax seeds. Ground flax seeds bind to toxins in the intestinal tract to help you poop them out.
Together, we’ve modified this recipe even more in the past year to make the oats themselves more digestible, as described in Nourishing Traditions. According to this extensively researched book, whole grains contain phytic acids which combine with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract thus blocking their absorption. They also contain enzyme inhibitors which further inhibit digestion. Soaking or fermenting grains neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors. This pre-digestion makes all their nutrients more available to our bodies.
1/3 cup of oats
2 tablespoons whey
1 cup (minus 2 tablespoons) water
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
maple syrup to taste (or stevia/xylitol)
pinch of salt.
Optional: pat of grass-fed butter or coconut oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, etc.
Soak the oats overnight in the water/whey mixture. In the morning, bring them to a boil with the salt, then simmer for 15-20 min (or longer) as you get ready for the day. When you are ready to eat, grind the flax & hemp seeds and mix with the oats, maple syrup, and any other spices you prefer. As an option put a pat of grass-fed butter or a smidge of coconut oil on top. Eat & enjoy not only the flavor, but also the good you are doing for your body.
Super Quick Version
If you must, use quick oats. The oats will be ready by the time you are done gathering the rest of the ingredients and grinding the seeds.
What About Whey?
Whey is the yellowish liquid that oozes off of high-quality yogurt (it’s present in all dairy products, but I find it easiest to separate out of yogurt). Homemade yogurt tends to be pretty liquidy, so I strain my through a cheesecloth and end up with wonderfully thick greek-style yogurt and lots of whey to use as a fermenting agent. You could strain high-quality store-bought yogurt if you don’t want to make your own, or follow the rest of the recipe but omit the whey (use extra water and put the salt in the night before if you do this).
Liquid to Oats ratio
The liquid to oats ratio is super important and has been refined for years. Do yourself a favor and follow the recipe exactly in this regard. You won’t enjoy it if your oatmeal is too thick or too liquid. The oatmeal will seem quite liquid when you pour it out of the pan, but that is just to compensate for the thickening quality of the flax seeds.
How to Store Hemp and Flax Seeds
Buy your flax and hemp seeds in sealed containers and keep them in the freezer. The fats go rancid easily and you never know how long something has been sittting in a bulk bin. Keeping them in the freezer once they are opened ensures that you won’t have to throw them away if you get out of the habit of eating them regularly for awhile.
The Question of Protein
The one drawback to this recipe is that it doesn’t have much protein (aside from the whey and hempseeds). We just haven’t yet figured out how to add protein and keep it palatable (don’t try protein powder, been there, done that). Sometimes we add soaked almonds and that tastes pretty good, but it does add one more thing to keep up with. Another option would be to just eat a piece of cold leftover chicken before or after the oatmeal. However, unless you have trouble eating enough protein you can probably get as much as you need at lunch and dinner. I have a tendency to hypoglycemia and I’ve not experienced any problems with low blood sugar on the days I eat this for breakfast.
Ok, now I’ve shared all my secrets with you. What are your strategies for healthy breakfast habits?