Why Breakfast Is the Worst Time to Eat ‘Breakfast Foods’

Let fiber, protein and nourishing fats fuel your morning
Why It's Better to Eat Your Cereal or Muffin at Lunch

By:  Roxanne B. Sukol, MD

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You may be surprised to learn that breakfast is the one meal of the day that should not include those so-called “breakfast foods” like toast, bagels, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cereal, biscuits, bread and grits. Here’s why:

  • Items containing large amounts of sugar, white flour and corn syrup are rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. This makes sense. After all, the fact that they have been stripped of their germ and fiber coat means that they’re already partially broken down before you even eat them.
  • Remember that the more quickly a food is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream, the more insulin your body releases to catch that food and escort it to cells throughout your body. So items made from stripped carbohydrates use up lots of insulin.
  • On the other hand, foods that are rich in fiber, fat and protein take a long while to be broken down and digested. They are absorbed into your bloodstream very slowly.

Now, if you start your day by eating something that gets absorbed quickly (to which your body responds by releasing a large amount of insulin), you’ve just set yourself up for a seesaw kind of day. Get ready for your blood sugars to spike and crash all day long.

There’s more bad news. Not only do stripped carbs cause a surge of insulin release, but insulin surges frequently overshoot the mark and result in low blood sugars.

This makes you hungry, especially for something that rapidly raises your blood sugar again and starts the whole process over again. Like stripped carbs. Get the picture?

All of this up-and-down business interferes with your energy, focus and general sense of contentment. So you’re not going to be at your best.

Fueling your body efficiently

Let’s pretend that you have two cars in the garage. One is a great big Ford F-150 truck and the other is a cute little Volkswagen. Now let’s just say, for the sake of this analogy, that atmospheric conditions cause gasoline to work less efficiently in the morning.

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Assuming that 1) gas combustion is temperamental at daybreak, and 2) gas is expensive, which means you don’t want to waste it, then which vehicle are you going to choose to drive your kid to school?

The Volkswagen, of course! Does this mean you’re never going to drive the truck? No. But you’re not going to drive it in the morning unless you have some really good reason —  you’d just be wasting gas.

So unless the Volkswagen is in for a tune-up, or you have plans to pick up a cord of wood on your way home, you’re just gonna slip right into that Volkswagen every morning, and drive away.

It’s all about timing

Now just like it doesn’t make sense to waste the gasoline in this story by driving a gas-guzzler first thing in the day, it doesn’t make sense to waste insulin by eating rapidly absorbed food at breakfast time.

I’m not saying that you should never eat white flour. I am saying you should to rethink eating large amounts of it, especially at breakfast. Instead, choose a whole grain, like:

  • Brown rice
  • Kasha (buckwheat, a gluten-free grain)
  • Bulghur wheat
  • Whole oats
  • Quinoa

As long as your blood sugars can handle them (those with diabetes, take note!), whole grains are nourishing and delicious. But not stripped grains, like white flour, corn syrup or instant rice.

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Hitting a man when he’s down

Here’s another way to think about it. Eating stripped carbohydrates (white flour, corn starch, corn syrup, fruit juice, sugar) first thing in the morning is like hitting a man when he’s already down.

Stripped carbohydrates stress your insulin-production system. Why stress your insulin production first thing in the morning? You’ll spend the rest of the day trying — usually unsuccessfully — to catch up.

Eating stripped carbohydrates for breakfast just doesn’t make sense.

— Adapted from Dr. Roxanne Sukol’s blog, yourhealthisonyourplate.com, Oct. 7, 2010

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