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How to Start the Day, The Healthy Way?


Written by Dr. Jewel Alfoure, ND

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Or is it?

You often hear the phrase and wonder why breakfast may be the most important meal of the day. For most, the idea is, your daily performance is thought to be negatively impacted if you remain in a fasting state. If it was true that breaking your fast is the single most important nutritional component of your day, what is all the hype about ketosis and fasting? Promises of weight loss and energy balance stabilization, clear mind, better mental performance, hormonal regulation, better mood and even longer lifespan are made by those who want to maintain "the fast" as long as possible. Even nature seems to be a skeptic when it comes to breakfasts as most animals go on for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even months fasting, waiting for their next meal.

So what's the deal with breakfasts? The deal is actually really simple! Breakfast may and may not be the most important meal of the day, depending on what you break your fast with. Breakfast, however, is always the most forgiving meal of the day! Simply because you have a full day ahead of you and you are likely going to be forced to be physical somehow to go about your daily activities, breakfast ends up being the safest meal calorie wise. Compared to a late night meal that takes all the blood away from the replenishing, detoxing brain and shifts it to the gastrointestinal system, a morning meal is a blessing! Other factors that make breakfast somewhat of a unique meal is the replenishing effect it has on children as children do most of their growing when they are asleep. If they use up most of their building blocks in the sleeping state, then it makes sense to replenish upon waking up. The previously stated conditions are all valid reasons to add uniqueness to the meal we name "breakfast", but none of them address the "fast" part and why breaking it is a huge deal!

The fasting state is the state that someone reaches after full breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Most of the time, we should reach that state every night. When we stop the intake of food, the body will focus on digesting all the nutrients left in out gastrointestinal system. Then, when all the nutrients are broken down, it will turn to the liver to break down our handy starch-like glycogen. Glycogen is a from of fuel that frees glucose into the bloodstream fast. Upon exhausting glycogen our body turns to fat fuel. Using fat as a fuel source is the complete game changer!

Running like a Pristine Machine 

Most people, spend their lifetime running on readily available carbs as a source of fuel. Carbs are wonderful as a source of fast, readily available fuel. The best way to understand carbs is to compare their burn to the flame generated by burning liquid alcohol. It is usually a cool, fast burning, hard to control flame. The flame ignites fast and dies down very fast, making it an ideal choice for carnivals and fire shows. On the other hand, diesel fuel, like fat gives a more steady, exponentially hotter flame that packs more efficiency and reliability of combustion. That efficiency is relied upon to power a more powerful engine like heavy trucks and large vans. Why are we suddenly talking about fuel mechanics? Simply because the body makes the same designations when it chooses its most preferred form of fuel. When fuel is provided for the body, it chooses to deposit fat around organs that need reliable power and performance1. On the other hand, It utilises carbs are a fast fuel source to run organs that have a need for speed. So for the purposes of understanding how our body deals with energy, we can imagine the body to be a highly efficient  multi-engine powered system that can utilize many different types of fuel to maintain its function1,2.

Your Heart is a Diesel Powered Engine

  1. Different organs have different preferred sources of fuel. The metabolic profile of organs is a fascinating realm to explore, but to be brief, the following is a summary of preferred organ fuel3:

    Organ

    Preferred Fuel

    Brain: The fast acting go-getter who deals with all the switchboard functions

    Glucose

    (about 120g or 420 Kcal/ day)

    Muscles: The versatile organ that can choose to use any source of fuel

    Glucose, fatty acids, and ketone bodies. Maintains a glycogen stash for emergency use (About 1200 kcal)

    The Heart: You can almost hear the pistons and the sparks in the combustion chamber of the fat powered pump

    Fat. As one of the few organs you can feel in action, efficiency and reliability are the name of the game when it comes to powering the organ that never stops pumping blood for a lifetime.

     

    Just a quick glance at the above chart shows us how the body designates preferred fuel use. Most quick acting organs use up glucose while more steady working organs that require power prefer fat as a fuel source3. The brain normally runs on carbs, but when in starvation it can switch to ketones as a fuel source. The switch makes it start running sluggish and then facilitating adaptation to a more steady form of function that is tempting to use for medical practitioners who need to steady or calm down brain function as in cases of epilepsy3,4

    Powerful Beginnings are Important

    There is no doubt that waking up and starting the day right is a very important aspect of health. A healthy start is one that supports the brain to function optimally, balances mood, stabilises hormones and gets the body ready enough to face a day of physical and mental demands. A day started with a high sugar meal may provide the brain with very quick fuel, but the burn won't last the whole day thus, resulting in the dreadful afternoon crash. Additionally, with the hard to control nature of sugar, a spike usually ends up causing enough instability to negatively impact the stress hormones in the body. Such instability is directly related to the insulin spike the body utilises to break down facilitate the uptake of all the sugar into tissues that usually do not utilise it as the preferred form of fuel5.

    Even if you are not worried about breaking the fast that you have achieved by spending eight hours without food, it is important to balance your first meal in a way that makes it a reliable, highly available form of fuel.

    What is a Happy Beginning? What makes Best Starts?

    Provide Electrolytes

    Tossing and turning under the sheets is the best way to dehydrate the body. Spending a good 8 hours without replacing fluids, under the effect of antidiuretic hormone, sweating in cycles is a process we must properly recover from6. You may have heard of the best practice of starting the day with a full class of water. While starting the day with water is amazing, the best way to fight dehydration is to provide the body with a steady supply of natural electrolytes8. Green Juices such as Kamut® juice are a powerful, natural source of electrolytes. By providing the body with sufficient amounts of electrolytes, first thing in the morning, you are insuring the kickstart of metabolic function , and proper organ hydration, two important pillars for initiating a functional start. Supplying electrolytes in the form of salts may not be a good option first thing in the morning as high sodium may influence fluid retention9. It is always best to turn to a natural high quality, balanced source of electorates such as juiced greens.

    Wake Up the Brain

    We have already established that waking up the brain with sugar may not be the most sustainable. The kind of "awake" everyone deserves to feel is a well rounded feeling of joy for being awake. While much of that feeling is related to how your last night went, a good controllable portion is related to what your brain anticipates to wake up to in the morning. While a morning coffee does wonders for getting you wired, it may also be a non-sustainable form of "alertness" promoter.  Coffee is a wonderful diuretic that adds tremendously to the dehydration your body went through at night. Additionally, as the caffeine breaks down you may also find yourself crashing mid-day or needing another coffee which can significantly impact your ability to sleep restfully10. A more rounded drink to have in the morning, or at least as the mid morning source of caffeine is green tea. While also significant in caffeine content, green tea includes some brain focus, antianxiety "zen" chemicals like L-theanine.  Studies even show that Caffeine and L-theanine come in a pre-balanced ratio that makes them optimal for an increase in focus, energy, mental performance, and physical power. A even more powerful form of green tea to try is Matcha11. Matcha contains significant amounts of the powerful catechin is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is an antioxidant that is powerful enough to cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) and induce neurite outgrowth. The chemical is actually shown to significantly protect the brain from age related changes12.

    Taking Part in Action

    When the brain is awake, the best way to engage it in daily activities is to get the sparks going with action potentials. In order to support action potentials it is important to enhance the availability of stimulatory neurotransmitters like acetyl-choline (Ach)13. Ach is responsible for memory and cognitive function. Starting the day off with a mushroom support such as that of Lion's Maine (Hericium erinaceum). May significantly make you feel sharper throughout the day. There is even scientific evidence that Lion's Maine has a preventative effect when given to those with age related cognitive decline and may be a good therapeutic agent for diseases like Alzheimer's14.

    Kickstart That High Power Morning Workout

    Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) on the other hand is another mushroom that has both evidence for improving brain learning capacity as well as increasing hormone levels15. Studies on human cells as well as male mice show a significant increase in testosterone upon the introduction of cordyceps16.  The increase may help improve athletic performance and promote the increase in muscle mass17. For those who are not looking to fuel a morning workout, It is also shown to significantly balance cortisol as well as other stress hormones. The balancing effect is important for a more steady, relaxed form of cognitive function18.

    Protect The High Powered Engine

    Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi)  is a calming adaptogen that is a gentle modulator of white blood cell function19. As a mushroom that carries more than a thousand different active constituents, rishi is traditionally used to enhance resilience, immune function and hormonal status.  Given the name "The Mushroom of Immortality" by the ancient Chinese, Reishi is an energy balancer, a enhancer of stamina and an overall healer that facilitates regeneration after breakdown20. One unique feature of the mushroom is the enhancement of the immune system by way of balancing blood sugar and stress hormone levels. Even if one is not on a full ketogenic diet, it may be beneficial to start the day with a blood sugar balancer for a more rounded, lasting access to energy supply21.

    Protein is the Wild Card

    When the body is provided with protein as a fuel source, a complete protein would have both glucogenic as well as ketogenic amino acids. Though there are strictly ketogenic amino acids, when provided both, the body chooses which way to go based on body preference as well as body requirement. Those who are on a strict ketogenic diet may prefer to provide the body with ketogenic amino acids to maintain a state of ketosis22. When choosing a protein source, however, consider the overall calories supplied by the protein. Anything under 50Kcal has little lasting impact on blood sugar. Hemp seed powder, for example has a protein profile very similar to egg whites, without all the nutrient absorption inhibitors naturally found in egg whites. Hemp stands out as a much less refined source of plant based protein with a better taste profile23, 24. Other healthy sources of protein include fermented rice proteinRegular rice is about 7 to 9% protein, while the process of fermenting takes it up to 80% protein. A fermented protein is one that is "already broken down" making it easier on the gastrointestinal system and faster to utilize as a form of fuel.

    Pump Up the Gasoline

    Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) provide the body with a readily available source of fuel that does not need to be broken down by the liver. Though readily available, MCTs are still not as quick of a source of fuel as carbohydrates. A form of broken down fat that be easily utilised to make ketone bodies which can cross the BBB, MCTs provide the brain with a fast enough, high energy fuel. They are also amazing for getting the body accustomed to running on an "alternative fuel" as most people who lower their carbohydrate intake report being tired, sluggish and uncomfortable during the high carb to low carb transition period25.

    Flavours Matter

    Never start your day with a highly "sweet" meal as the first thing you have in the morning sets up your palate for the rest of the day. Think of traditional breakfasts, they are usually bland and easy to digest. Starting with extra sweet syrupy pancakes means that everything else must be as sweet or sweeter in order for the flavour to register. You would be surprised at how subjective your palate is and how much it dictates what you end up choosing to eat. The best solution is to spare the willpower muscle for more important decisions and try to get your pallet accustomed to earthy flavours so that any following meal will have to compete way less to impress your palette.

    What Makes a Good Breakfast?

    Water

    To make up for dehydration

    Greens

    To supply electrolytes and vitamin cofactors that kick start metabolism

    Protein

    To feel fuller and give the body the choice to utilize amino acids for the preferred form of fuel

    MCT

    To fuel the brain fast and steady and teach the body to utilize better fuel options

    Brain waking/ Mood enhancement

    To increase mental capacity to deal with stress and have a more positive waking up experience

    Adaptogen

    To power the body through physical stress and make for the enhancement of athletic performance. Hormone regulation may play a pivotal role in maintaining resilience, steady energy supply and immune function!

     

    Healthy Morning Routines

    • 15 min breathing/meditation to promote healthy oxygenation of organs and clear the mind

    • Finishing up with a cool shot in the shower to wake up the thyroid (Never do that if you suffer from Asian Medicine cold patterns)

    • 30 min any kind of physical activity - to get the thyroid/ adrenals going

    • Take a moment to be grateful for the day ahead!

    Superfood Breakfast Ingredient examples!

    • Clean, filtered water

    • Green/ green juices

    • Bee Pollen

    • Royal Jelly

    • Protein

    • MCT

    • Keto Fuel (butyrate)

    • Mushrooms (Rishi, Lion's mane, Cordyceps)

    • Berries

    • Nuts and Seeds

    • Fermented foods

    • Green Tea

    • Coffee (if you can handle it)

    Morning Supplement Examples: Supplements that give optimal results when taken in the morning!

    References

    1. Elia, M. (1995). General integration and regulation of metabolism at the organ level. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 54(1), 213-232.

    2. Andrews, M. T., Russeth, K. P., Drewes, L. R., & Henry, P. G. (2009). Adaptive mechanisms regulate preferred utilization of ketones in the heart and brain of a hibernating mammal during arousal from torpor. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 296(2), R383-R393.

    3. Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 30.2, Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22436/

    4. Neal, E. G., Chaffe, H., Schwartz, R.  H., Lawson, M. S., Edwards, N., Fitzsimmons, G., ... & Cross, J. H.  (2008). The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a  randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Neurology, 7(6), 500-506.

    5. Khodabandehlou, T., Zhao, H., Vimeux, M., Aouane, F., & Le Devehat, C. (1998). Haemorheological consequences of hyperglycaemic spike in healthy volunteers and insulin‐dependent diabetics. Clinical hemorheology and microcirculation, 19(2), 105-114.

    6. Thornton, S. N. (2011). Overnight dehydration increases the risk of a morning infarct. Heart, 97(16), 1359-1359

    7. Miller, M., & Moses, A. M. (1972). Radioimmunoassay of urinary antidiuretic hormone in man: response to water load and dehydration in normal subjects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 34(3), 537-545.

    8. Pan, W. H., Chen, J. Y., Chen, Y. C.,  & Tsai, W. Y. (1994). Diurnal electrolyte excretion pattern affects  estimates of electrolyte status based on 24-hour, half-day, and  overnight urine. The Chinese journal of physiology, 37(1), 49-53.

    9. Light, K. C., Koepke, J. P., Obrist, P. A., & Willis, P. W. (1983). Psychological stress induces sodium and fluid retention in men at high risk for hypertension. Science, 220(4595), 429-431.

    10. Namba, T., & Matsuse, T. (2002). A  historical study of coffee in Japanese and Asian countries: focusing  the medicinal uses in Asian traditional medicines. Yakushigaku Zasshi, 37(1), 65-75.

    11. Dietz, C., & Dekker, M. (2017). Effect of green tea phytochemicals on mood and cognition. Current pharmaceutical design, 23(19), 2876-2905.

    12. Weiss, D. J., & Anderton, C. R.  (2003). Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar  electrokinetic chromatography. Journal of Chromatography A, 1011(1-2), 173-180.

    13. Spelman, K., Sutherland, E., & Bagade, A. (2017). Neurological activity of lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus). Journal of Restorative Medicine, 6(1), 19-26.

    14. Kawagishi, H., Zhuang, C., &  Shnidman, E. (2004). The anti-dementia effect of Lion's Mane mushroom  (Hericium erinaceum) and its clinical application. Townsend letter for doctors and Patients, (249), 54-57.

    15. Jiraungkoorskul, K., &  Jiraungkoorskul, W. (2016). Review of naturopathy of medical mushroom,  Ophiocordyceps sinensis, in sexual dysfunction. Pharmacognosy reviews, 10(19), 1.

    16. Chen, Y. C., Chen, Y. H., Pan, B. S.,  Chang, M. M., & Huang, B. M. (2017). Functional study of Cordyceps  sinensis and cordycepin in male reproduction: A review. journal of food and drug analysis, 25(1), 197-205.

    17. Hirsch, K. R., Smith-Ryan, A. E.,  Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., & Mock, M. G. (2017). Cordyceps  militaris improves tolerance to high-intensity exercise after acute and  chronic supplementation. Journal of dietary supplements, 14(1), 42-53.

    18. Koh, J. H., Kim, K. M., Kim, J. M.,  Song, J. C., & Suh, H. J. (2003). Antifatigue and antistress effect  of the hot-water fraction from mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 26(5), 691-694.

    19. Guggenheim, A. G., Wright, K. M., & Zwickey, H. L. (2014). Immune modulation from five major mushrooms: application to integrative oncology. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal13(1), 32.

    20. Rossi, P., Buonocore, D., Altobelli, E., Brandalise, F., Cesaroni, V., Iozzi, D., ... & Marzatico, F. (2014). Improving training condition assessment in endurance cyclists: effects of Ganoderma lucidum and Ophiocordyceps sinensis dietary supplementation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2014.

    21. Mizuno, T., Wang, G., Zhang, J., Kawagishi, H., Nishitoba, T., & Li, J. (1995). Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma tsugae: bioactive substances and medicinal effects. Food Reviews International11(1), 151-166.

    22. Volpi, E., Kobayashi, H., Sheffield-Moore, M., Mittendorfer, B., & Wolfe, R. R. (2003). Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition78(2), 250-258.

    23. Volpi, E., Kobayashi, H., Sheffield-Moore, M., Mittendorfer, B., & Wolfe, R. R. (2003). Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition78(2), 250-258.

    24. Callaway, J. (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview. Euphytica, 140, 65-72. doi: 10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6

    25. Liu, Y. M. C. (2008). Medium‐chain triglyceride (MCT) ketogenic therapy. Epilepsia49, 33-36.