I often get asked what to eat for breakfast and what time to eat it. Fair question seeing that it's the core of my production business at ALL ABOUT HEALTH.
Some believe that it is the most important meal of the day. And I agree, provided we can all get on the same page. So let's unpack what the traditional meaning of the concept means.
Most of the Western world will understand breakfast to be the meal that you eat in the morning shortly after you get out of bed. As a child before school this consisted of cardboard, sugary cereals with milk. On the weekends I may have been treated to bacon and eggs or toast and jam or sometimes croissants. Whatever the food I was presented with, the one thing that remained non-negotiable is that I had to eat, hungry or not.
This is because this is the way that it has always been done and 'they' must surely be right about breakfast being the most important meal of the day.
Lets unpack this word:: Break and Fast.
It simply means the first meal you eat after hours or days of not eating.
Who decided that you had to break your fast in the morning after you wake up? Is it simply that whilst we were sleeping we did not eat and therefore you somehow believe that you have to eat when you are awake? Or is there a another reason why you need to consume food in the morning?
Any person or organisation that deigns to make claims for breakfast needs to define what it means by that word. And unfortunately, most do not–leaving it vague or unspecified. .
Recently a study was published that tried to prove how skipping breakfast led to a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol).
Based on data that was gathered, they showed that skipping breakfast is related to an increase in those risk factors and therefore an increase in mortality. The study thus supports eating breakfast to promote cardiovascular health.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. According an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who was not involved in the research, “The major issue [with the study] is that the subjects who regularly skipped breakfast also had the most unhealthy lifestyle habits. Specifically, these people were former smokers, heavy drinkers, physically inactive, and also had poor diet quality and low family income."
All those factors combined predispose people to a much higher risk for cardiovascular disease. “I realize that the study attempted to control for these confounders, but I think it’s hard to tease apart breakfast skipping from their unhealthy lifestyle in general. “1
Studies are inherently biased towards the results that you want to attain. One has to also ask who the sponsors of the study was: Perhaps Kellogg's? Bokomo? The Bread Board?
Who has vested interests in promoting their products?
When to Break your Fast?
I have always been a big fan of fasting. Admittedly I also wrestled with the conventional 'wisdom' that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
Until one day I sat down and applied some logic to this habit.
Why should I not eat breakfast at 13h00?
Who says that it has to be eaten at 07h00?
Who says that muesli or granola should only be eaten between the hours of 08h00 and 10h00?
Why can't I eat bacon and eggs at 15h00?
Furthermore how can eating nutritionally devoid flakes of corn drenched in sugar and lactose somehow be better for me than not eating at all??
The more questions I asked the more ludicrous the notion became of pinning down breakfast to a specific time of the day and limiting my food choices because the earth happened to be in the 'wrong' place in relation to the sun?
Fasting is simply abstinence from food, especially the kind that raises your insulin and/or blood sugar after it is consumed.
Fasting is a natural state that happens to most of us when we go to bed at night and do not eat for at least 6 hours. If fasting were detrimental to our bodies then we would not have been designed to be able to cope with this window of non-eating.
When you are sick you lose your appetite. Did you ever stop to wonder why?
Digestion is extremely energy-consuming. Blood is diverted to your intestines to help absorb nutrients and the entire process puts huge strain on your entire system.
When you are sick your body needs all the energy it can spare in order to heal itself. It needs the blood pumping around the body so that the white blood cells can help defend you. Therefore the body intelligently dulls your appetite in order to deal with the most important thing which is to get you better!
The best thing you can do at times like that is to sip highly nutritious bone broth which contains everything you need to support the healing process.
What benefit does fasting have?
Fasting for one day provides a vacation for your body.
Fasting, for as little as three days, “flips a regenerative switch” which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system.
Fasting for 5-7 days causes intelligent autolysis to kick in. At the point, your body begins harvesting and self-digesting the cells and parts of your body that are damaged or old–the inefficient parts, if you will, for energy. Then, when you start eating again, it replaces those parts with new, undamaged cells and tissue. That’s the primary benefit of fasting, now proven by science!
However there is an easier way to reap the benefits of fasting without having to deny yourself the pleasure of eating for days on end. That is called intermittent fasting
which is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.
Warning: this is not about shifting your normal breakfast time out from 07h00 to 10h00 and then still eating lunch and dinner. That is NOT intermittent fasting. Its called self-deception and may fool you for a short time but you will not reap the health benefits of this incredible practice.
In most programs, intermittent fasting says nothing about which foods to eat, but rather when you should eat them. There are several different intermittent fasting methods, all of which split the day or week into eating periods and fasting periods.
Intermittent fasting has gained considerable popularity over the past decade. There are two major subcategories of intermittent fasting:
Fasting one to four days per week as in alternate day fasting 2
Time restricted feeding in which you fast every day, but only for about 16 hours a day 3,4
And guess what? If you really believe that you should eat in the morning then you can design your fasting periods around this. For example you will eat your breakfast at 07h00, eat your lunch at 15h00 and then not eat again until 07h00 the next morning which will give you your 16 hour fasting window.
Although this type of fasting does not go on long enough to initiate intelligent autolysis or regenerate the immune system, it does produce two benefits that have made it extremely popular.
First and foremost, a 2018 study published in Nutrition and Healthy Aging found that 8 hour time restricted feeding results in weight loss, without calorie counting 5
A notable decrease in blood pressure
So, How Does Intermittent Fasting Provide Its Health Benefits?
Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss
Truth be told, this is often the primary reason people decide to give any form of intermittent fasting a try. And there is a great deal of research that indicates they will not be disappointed since intermittent fasting is quite effective in this regard. Essentially, it provides the same efficacy as calorie restriction 6 but with two important extra benefits.
• Because of its intermittent nature, it never causes your body to slow its metabolism, which can cause severe weight rebounds when you finally stop, as happens with calorie restricted diets.
• And intermittent fasting is much easier to follow than caloric restriction, which requires you to stay on a program of self-denial day after day, for weeks at a time–which leaves many people feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and unable to freely participate in social functions that involve eating.
So, exactly how does intermittent fasting help lose weight?
By virtue of the extended periods of non-eating, you tend to eat fewer calories. However as I mentioned earlier in the post, it is crucial that you don't just divide the food you used to eat when eating 3 meals a day (plus snacks) into two sittings as this really defeats the point.
When you’re not consuming food, your insulin and blood glucose levels drop. Do that for long enough–as happens during your fasting periods–and the reduced levels of insulin trigger your cells to release their glucose stores to provide energy. And burning up your glucose stores on a regular basis leads to weight loss.
When you have burned through all the available glucose you will start burning FAT which can only be used for fuel when theres no more glucose. This is why doing the Low Carb Lifestyle is more beneficial if you are serious about fasting. Your body can store a lot of glucose so just creating an 18 hour non-eating period does not necessarily mean that you would have used up all the glucose that was produced from your high carbohydrate meal!
2. Intermittent Fasting and Reduced Risk of Diabetes
High blood levels of insulin and glucose are known risk factors for diabetes. But as we’ve discussed, intermittent fasting will lower your blood glucose levels as well as your fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance, thus lowering your risk of diabetes.
It should be noted that time restricted eating is likely to prove superior in this regard as alternate day fasting is more likely to stimulate appetite and encourage binge eating on food days, which forces pancreatic cells to work harder on those days.
3. Intermittent Fasting and Central Nervous System (CNS) Health
Animal studies have found that intermittent fasting can suppress inflammation throughout the entire central nervous system 7
More specifically, a 2017 article published in Ageing Research Reviews found that a number of studies have shown that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and stroke 8
4. Intermittent Fasting and Cardiovascular Health
As we discussed earlier, studies have shown that intermittent fasting seems to have an ability to lower blood pressure. As it turns out, this study does not exist in isolation. For example, studies have shown that intermittent fasting and exercise produce remarkably similar effects on heart rate and blood pressure.
These effects of intermittent fasting on heart rate are not simply the result of caloric restriction, because rats maintained on intermittent fasting are only moderately calorie-restricted (10–20%) and yet exhibit greater reductions in resting heart rate than do mice on 40% daily caloric restriction 9
The available data suggests a scenario in which both intermittent fasting and exercise result in the enhancement of activity in brainstem neurons that triggers a consequent reduction in resting heart rate and blood pressure and increased heart rate variability.13
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to enhance cardiovascular stress adaptation in rat models of uncontrollable stress 10
Only losing weight by restricting calories is inferior to losing weight when restricting calories combined with exercise. Yet another compelling reason to make exercise a pillar of your health .
Conclusion: Breakfast VS Intermittent Fasting
Most people who say that they skip breakfast don't actually skip it. Whenever you eat your first meal of the day, that’s breakfast. That’s when you’re breaking your fast. And if you think you’re skipping breakfast by grabbing a coffee and muffin on the way to work, you’re not. Whatever you shove in your mouth after fasting overnight is breakfast, whatever the time of the day.
Whenever you BREAK YOUR FAST, that first meal needs to be nutritionally dense since your body’s cells tend to suck up whatever you first eat when breaking fast. So,
• Skip the coffee and pastry or toast meals. That’s just caffeine and high glycaemic carbs.
• Skip the standard sugar sweetened breakfast cereals.
• Pancakes and waffles likewise don’t make the cut.
• And skip the low-protein, high-sugar food shakes and breakfast bars.
What to eat
• Organic eggs and bacon are perfectly fine but instead of the toast add avocado or spinach.
• Oats and muesli are good choices–enhance it by adding a handful of almonds or mixed seeds. For a gluten free option cook up some quinoa with a sprinkling of cinnamon and a dollop of creamy macadamia butter.
• Smoothies made with natural kefir or unsweetened nut milk (if you're trying to lose weight) and fresh or frozen berries.
1. Jacqueline Howard. Skipping breakfast tied to higher risk of heart-related death, study finds.” CNN April 23, 2019. (Accessed 8 May 2019.) https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/22/health/skipping-breakfast-cardiovascular-death-study/index.html
2. Longo VD, Mattson MP. “Fasting: Molecular mechanisms and clinical applications.” Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181–92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3946160/
3. Longo VD, Panda S. “Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan.” Cell Metab. 2016;23(6):1048–59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5388543/
4. Chaix A, et al. “Time-restricted feeding is a preventative and therapeutic intervention against diverse nutritional challenges.” Cell Metab. 2014;20(6):991–1005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4255155/
5. Kelsey Gabel, Kristin K. Hoddy, Nicole Haggerty, et al. “Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: A pilot study.” Nutr Healthy Aging. 2018; 4(4): 345–353. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6004924/
6. Trepanowski JF, Kroeger CM, Barnosky A, et al. “Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(7):930–938. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2623528
7. Andrea Rodrigues Vasconcelos, Paula Fernanda Kinoshita, Lidia Mitiko Yshii, et al. “Effects of intermittent fasting on age-related changes on Na,K-ATPase activity and oxidative status induced by lipopolysaccharide in rat hippocampus.” Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 36, Issue 5, May 2015, Pages 1914-1923. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197458015001517
8. Mark P. Mattson, Valter D. Longo, and Michelle Harvie. “Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes.” Ageing Res Rev. 2017 Oct; 39: 46–58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5411330/
9. Mager DE, Wan R, Brown M, Cheng A, et al. “Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting alter spectral measures of heart rate and blood pressure variability in rats.” FASEBJ. 2006;20:631–637. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16581971
10. Wan R, Camandola S, Mattson MP. “Intermittent food deprivation improves cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to stress in rats.” J. Nutr. 2003;133:1921–1929. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12771340