What Makes for a Healthful Breakfast?
Like most nutritional questions, if you ask a dozen people, you’ll get a dozen different answers. I’ll share mine with you too with the hope that it might lead you to the positive outcome I enjoyed. First, I’d like to put the question in proper perspective with a story from my childhood.
Does It Really Help Build Strong Bodies?
When I was a preschooler, one of my playmates in our apartment complex was a bully. One day he was picking on a little kid who was innocently playing in the sand box. When he disregarded my request to back off, I punched him out. A few days later, my mother reported that he showed up at our door to ask her, “What makes Marc so strong.” My mother dutifully told him that it must have been Wonder Bread. In those days, as advertised on TV, it “Helps Build Strong Bodies 6 Ways.” As I grew older, however, I began to put more stock in Wheaties, the “Breakfast of Champions.”
In retrospect, it was all a crock. Doesn’t it defy reason that we should rely on Madison Avenue slogans financed by food processing companies for our knowledge of healthful eating? Under this influence, my childhood was “normal” – I had frequent colds, a tonsillectomy and allergy shots for hives. I’m thankful I’ve been much healthier for the past 20 years of following Ayurvedic principles. My first key lesson was that cold cereal with milk begets problems. You’ll soon learn why.
Shortfalls of Nutrition Research
In this context, it’s sad that western medicine still lacks clarity about most nutritional questions including the potential benefits or harms of eating breakfast. For example, a JAMA News and Perspectives column from May 1, 2019 summarized some of the literature on the subject. The article opens with a historical reference to an author associated with Kellogg’s cereal writing in 1917 about the prime importance of breakfast. It then discusses a recent meta-analysis of published scientific studies which suggests that skipping breakfast might be better for weight control. This still begs the question of what’s on the menu and whose commercial interests have a stake in the outcomes of the research.
Ayurvedic Principles for a Healthful Breakfast
Ayurveda could have guided nutrition scientists with a better set of hypotheses to test. It starts with a deep understanding of the digestive process, highlighting its diurnal variation in relation to the movement of the sun. Digestion is strongest at noon, which is why lunch should be the main meal of the day, not breakfast. Good digestion is essential for creating healthy bodily tissues. A mismatch of food load to digestive power can disrupt the process and lead to the creation of toxic by-products known as Ama.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, breakfast is optional. The lumberman’s breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs might be suitable for those individuals with very strong digestion who don’t care about the dulling effect of bacon on the nervous system (see https://qatoqi.com/ayurveda/food.htm for more details). In contrast, “milky grains” like oatmeal cooked in milk or lightly cooked fruit would provide appropriate nutrition for most everyone who prefers to eat breakfast (also see: https://qatoqi.com/ayurveda/menuplan.htm).
Processed cereal with cold milk is particularly problematic. Cold milk dulls digestion. When combined with the salt contained in most commercial breakfast cereals, the milk becomes toxic and creates Ama.
The Virtues of Cooked Fruit for Breakfast
Cooked fruit has the added advantage of balancing the digestive fire known as Agni while providing a key component of a balanced diet in a form and at a time when it can be best assimilated. If fruit is not enough to sustain you until lunch, you can supplement with a mid-morning snack of boiled milk or a date-almond milk shake).
Fruit is not a good choice in the evening, when the Shrotas (channels of the body) involved with its processing are closing. This is also why the body is less able to tolerate vigorous exercise at night. Milky grains , which we associate with breakfast, are even better as a light, nourishing dinner.
Stewed organically-grown fruit is Sattvic (pure, health-giving), promotes Ojas
(the source of strength, vitality & immunity), enhances digestion, and reduces Ama, particularly when taken by itself for breakfast. It’s also suitable for an afternoon snack. Surprisingly, it’s a good choice for those who desire sustainable weight control, yet it also works for those who tend to be underweight.
With one major exception, fruit is not harmful when taken with other foods. It just happens to be most beneficial taken by itself as a breakfast food. The one exception is banana. Banana is heavy and hard to digest, so it is not ideal for breakfast. Moreover, it becomes toxic and Ama-promoting when combined with milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream or sour cream.
Stewed Fruit Recipe
Lightly cook some chopped apple (Fuji, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Pinata, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith are all suitable) or ripe pear (Bosc, Anjou, Comice are my preferences) with a little water and some chopped fresh ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. This only takes a few minutes. You want the fruit to be soft and warm, not necessarily mushy. You could also use a few whole cloves for greater effect and taste (remove before eating unless you are feeling cold).
Apples and pears have the virtue of being among the lightest of fruits. When taken raw, however, they tend to aggravate Vata. That’s why cooking makes them balancing for all Dosha types. Other than apples and pears, fruit does not need to be cooked. So feel free to mix in other sweet, ripe fruits at the end for variety and to achieve sufficient quantity to satisfy your hunger.
To better balance Vata and/or Pitta, you could soak some organic raisins and/or a chopped Turkish or Calimyrna fig in water overnight and use the mixture in place of plain water. For greater nourishment, you could also use a soaked, chopped date.