By Dr. Mercola
Do you ever find that eating breakfast makes you hungry soon thereafter? If so, you're likely eating the wrong kind of breakfast. According to the featured article, many are confused about what makes for a healthy morning meal.
The featured article1 is a great example of what most of the media and conventional health "experts" recommend. It lists five of the most commonly believed breakfast "mistakes," including:
- Not enough protein
- Too little fiber
- No fat
- Not enough food, and
- Eating too late in the morning
While most of these have their merit, these points fail to address what may be the biggest mistake of all, which is eating breakfast in the first place.
Omitting breakfast, as part of an intermittent fasting schedule, can actually have a number of phenomenal health benefits, from improving insulin sensitivity to shifting your body into burning more fat instead of sugar for fuel.
But before we get into that, let's take a quick look at the five breakfast mistakes listed in the featured article. If you DO, for whatever reason, choose to eat breakfast and are not yet convinced to change, you might notice you tend to feel hungry shortly afterward. If so these recommendations might offer some relief.
Common Breakfast Mistakes
The most common mistake people make with their breakfast is to eat typical breakfast foods, most of which are highly processed and loaded with sugars. This includes waffles, cereal, toast, muffins, bagels and other breakfast sandwiches. These are some of the absolute worst foods you can eat. They satiate your current hunger but set you up for metabolic disasters and fuel excess body fat and obesity-related diseases.
There are many thousands of well done peer reviewed studies that support the harmful effects of sugar on human health and many are listed on this site. For a quick review, read the "76 Dangers of Sugar to Your Health."
Unfortunately, many recommend the need for more protein, and fail to address the excess carb issue. They also fail to address the health problems related to pasteurized dairy, including milk and yoghurt. They are also clueless about the fact that most commercially available yoghurts are absolutely chockfull of sugar! Whether it's full fat or low-fat (which is even worse), these commercial pasteurized yoghurts are simply not a good source of either protein or fat.
Yoghurt made from raw organic milk on the other hand, can be a helpful health food for many, and is something you can easily make at home. This kind of yoghurt contains both beneficial protein and healthful fat, but most importantly loads of beneficial bacteria, making it an ideal breakfast food if you are going to have breakfast.
One of the other challenges with many breakfasts, and for that matter, most other meal recommendations, is that too much protein is recommended. There is an emerging consensus that excess carbs are deleterious but many simply substitute protein for the carbs and ignore the fat. For most, this is a serious mistake. So rather than replacing carbs with protein, consider substituting it for some of the healthy fats listed below. It will go a long way towards helping you transition to fat burning mode discussed below.
Olives and Olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, especially macadamia Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils
What Can You Have for a Healthy Breakfast?
Again, I am not convinced that most people benefit from eating breakfast, but if you are in transition to phasing this meal out of your schedule, or for whatever reason choose to eat breakfast, then organic pastured eggs are an excellent breakfast option. The less you cook them the better, as many of the nutrients in the yolk are susceptible to heat damage. So soft boiled or poached are your best options. One other option is to prepare a lunch or dinner option for breakfast, or even use leftovers from your last evening's meal.
The Strong Case for Skipping Breakfast
The interesting aspect about eating first thing in the morning is that it coincides with your circadian cortisol peak, that is, the time of day when your cortisol (a stress hormone) levels rise and reach their peak. The circadian cortisol peak impacts your insulin secretion, such that when you eat during this time it leads to a rapid and large insulin release and a corresponding rapid drop in blood sugar levels, more so than when you eat at other times of the day.
If you're healthy, your blood sugar levels won't drop to a dangerously low level (such as can occur with hypoglycemia) but they can drop low enough to make you feel hungry. So, although skipping breakfast goes against the conventional idea that you should not skip meals, omitting breakfast could actually make it easier for you to control food cravings and hunger throughout the day. That said, there are also many other reasons to consider skipping breakfast.
However, it is important to remember that skipping breakfast is a process, not an action. You don't simply stop eating breakfast one day and you are golden and reap all the benefits. It is a major commitment that may come with some discomfort, and it typically takes several weeks to successfully transition from being a primary carb burner to using fat as your primary fuel.
How to Implement Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting, also known as "scheduled eating," does not necessarily mean abstaining from all food for extended periods of time. Rather it refers to a dramatic reduction of calorie intake, or limiting your eating to a narrow window of time each day. Some recommend cutting your daily calories at least in half, but you can go as low as 500-800 calories. Another alternative is to simply eat all meals or snacks during a limited window of time.
Ideally, you'll want to limit your eating to a window of about 6-8 hours each day, which means you're fasting daily for 16-18 hours. This is enough to get your body to shift into fat-burning mode, and applies whether you're restricting the number of calories you consume during this time or not. Say from noon to 6 pm.
As mentioned previously, this is a gradual process. Typically you start by not eating anything for three hours prior to going to sleep. This will give you a head start to the fasting process so if you sleep for 8 hours you've already fasted for 11 hours when you awake. The next step is to wait as long as you can before you start your first meal or "break" your fast. You can gradually extend the time that you have your first meal by 15 to 30 minutes a day. So after several weeks you will be having your first meal at lunch. Typically the more your body uses carbs as its primary fuel rather than fat, the longer this will take. Once you shift to fat burning mode, modern research has confirmed some of the benefits to be:
- Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
- Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone"
- Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
Fasting also inhibits your mTOR pathway, which emerging science and many experts believe plays an important part in driving the aging process. Furthermore, while it's long been known that restricting calories in certain animals can increase their lifespan by as much as 50 percent, more recent research suggests that sudden and intermittent calorie restriction can provide similar benefits as constant calorie restriction, which is very difficult, if not impossible for most to implement as it violates a primary powerful hunger drive that, for most, is virtually impossible to override for the long term.
Omitting Breakfast Helped Me Lose Fat and Gain Muscle
Many may know that about nine months ago I revised my personal eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat to a period of about six to seven hours—typically from noon to 6 or 7 pm. I typically exercise in the morning, and most of the time I am fasting, as exercising while in a fasted state has been shown to produce many beneficial changes. I find that it works particularly well to exercise first thing in the morning and delay your first meal until later in the day. To learn more about this strategy, please see this previous article by fitness expert Ori Hofmekler.
However, the two to three days a week that I do strength training I will make certain I have some food about 30-60 minutes after I work out. Pure Protein powder can be a convenient source of protein for many, but I would restrict the dose to one scoop, or about 20 grams.
Remember, your ancestors rarely had access to food 24/7 like you do today, and it makes sense that your genes are optimized for this type of intermittent fasting. It takes about six to eight hours for your body to metabolize your glycogen stores and after that you actually start to shift to burning fat. However if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours, you make it far more difficult for your body to actually use your fat stores as fuel.
Interestingly, in the first few months of adopting this approach, I lost two inches from my waist size and gained three pounds, which means I lost body fat and gained muscle mass. A growing body of intriguing research is, in fact, showing that intermittent fasting may be a key weight loss tool, and that was certainly my experience.
But, clearly, the most amazing benefit that intermittent fasting produced is that it shifted me to fat burning mode, which was one of the most amazing and radical health transformations I have ever experienced. Once you are truly shifted to primarily fat burning mode your hunger dramatically decreases and your desire for unhealthy processed junk foods virtually disappears. You then don't have to have much discipline or will power to follow a healthy eating plan as your hunger for these carbs is just not there. In my experience it is nothing short of a miracle.
Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?
If you're already off to a good start on a healthy diet and fitness plan, then intermittent fasting might be just the thing to bring you to the next level, like it did for me. However, you need to pay very careful attention and listen to your body, and your energy levels. This is especially true if you're overweight, diabetic, hypoglycemic, or pregnant.
Please keep in mind that proper nutrition becomes even MORE important when fasting, so focusing on your diet really should be your first step. Common sense will tell you that fasting combined with a denatured, highly processed, toxin-rich diet is likely to do more harm than good, as you're not giving your body proper fuel to thrive when you DO eat.
If you're hypoglycemic, diabetic, or pregnant (and/or breastfeeding), you may be better off avoiding any type of fasting or timed meal schedule until you've normalized your blood glucose and insulin levels, or weaned the baby. Others categories of people that would be best served to avoid fasting include those living with chronic stress, and those with cortisol dysregulation or "adrenal fatigue."
As for pregnant and/or lactating women, I don't think fasting would be a wise choice. Your baby needs plenty of nutrients, during and after birth, and there's no research supporting fasting during this important time. On the contrary, some studies2 suggest it might be contraindicated, as it can alter fetal breathing patterns, heartbeat, and increase gestational diabetes. It may even induce premature labor.
Personally, I don't think it's worth the risk. Instead, my recommendation would be to really focus on improving your nutrition during this crucial time. A diet with plenty of raw organic, biodynamic foods, and foods high in healthful fats, coupled with high-quality proteins will give your baby a head start on good health. You'll also want to be sure to include plenty of cultured and fermented foods to optimize your—and consequently your baby's—gut flora. For more information, please see this previous article that includes specific dietary recommendations for a healthy pregnancy, as well as my interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
Finding a Lifestyle Plan that Works
If you have already put much focus and energy on your diet, cutting out grains and processed foods and replacing them with healthful fats like the one in the table above, then intermittent fasting could further boost weight loss and provide additional health benefits. Also, while not discussed here, if you're engaged in a regular fitness program and feel like you've hit a plateau, then working out in a fasted state might help rev things up. For more information about exercise while fasting, please see this previous article.
If you decide to give intermittent fasting a try, remember to not eat any food for three hours before going to sleep and then start slow and work your way up to 16-18 hour fasts; narrowing that window during which you eat all your calories. Remember to listen to your body. Also be sure to address any hypoglycemic tendencies, as it can get increasingly dangerous the longer you go without eating to level out your blood sugar.
In conclusion, it is my experience that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, and no matter how you tweak it, it might be causing you more harm than good. Skipping breakfast might be the easiest way to shift your body into using fat as its primary fuel. Once you make this shift to fat burning mode your hunger for unhealthy foods will dramatically and almost magically disappear, and you will not have to exert enormous amounts of self-discipline or will power to resist unhealthy foods that you know will increase your risk of disease.