4 Breakfast Foods to Avoid and Some Healthy Alternatives

Breakfast is the most important meal because it dictates our energy levels for the remainder of the day. It’s crucial that we eat a healthy, well-balanced breakfast to start the day off right. These popular breakfast foods below are nutritionally deficient and provide very little sustenance, leaving us hungry sooner. Try some of the alternative recipes instead and notice the difference in your energy and satiety levels.

 Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

Cereals should be avoided as much as possible. See my post here for an explanation why. Instead, make yourself a big batch of granola. It’s super easy and fun to mix and match ingredients and it stores well in an air-tight container for several weeks. Try to find grains, seeds, and nuts in bulk at your local health food store. Not only is it cheaper to buy in bulk, you pay less due to the lack of unnecessary (and wasteful) cost in packaging and you can decide how much you want or need. Try this easy homemade granola recipe.


Instant Oatmeal typically comes prepackaged and loaded with sugar, salt, and other undesirable ingredients. And while whole-grain oats are high in fiber and help us stay full longer, instant oatmeal and quick cooking oats are first cooked via steam.  Precooking breaks down the cellular structure of the food, which causes the body to digest it quicker, making us hungry sooner. Instead, purchase plain, whole-grain oats, oat bran, or steel-cut oats. There are many ways to dress up your oatmeal without added sugar. Try incorporating fresh fruit and cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or vanilla extract to boost flavor.


Photo by Paul Goyette, Flickr

Breakfast bars such as Pop-Tarts, Nature Valley granola bars, and Nutri-grain bars are of no benefit to us. Sure, they may be a quick and simple means to stave off hunger pangs, but they are laden with copious amounts of added sugars, lack nutritional value, and contain harmful additives. Instead, check out this 6-ingredient recipe for delicious apple cinnamon bars. These bars are super healthy and will leave you satisfied for hours!


Photo by Joe Goldberg, Flickr

Pastries, such as muffins, croissants, and cookies should be eaten at a minimum. For obvious reasons, these sugary treats are not only unhealthy, they lack fiber, which keeps us full. When you can’t resist, find those that are made fresh from your local bakery. That way, you can be certain they won’t contain any additives or preservatives.  Here’s a delicious and easy banana bread recipe to appease the sweet tooth.

It’s best to avoid packaged foods as much as possible. Healthy alternatives that will leave you satisfied longer are easy and fun (not to mention cheaper) to make at home. I guarantee you’ll feel better and have more energy by swapping out processed foods with homemade, nutrient-dense breakfasts. Your body will thank you!


Fructose, the Evil Sugar

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Not all sugar is created equal. The consumption of added sugars can have seriously adverse health effects, boosting insulin resistance, raising triglyceride counts and promoting weight gain, all of which increase risk factors for diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. According to a recent report from the Mayo Clinic the main culprit behind these adverse metabolic effects is a particular type of sugar — fructose. Though generally harmless in its natural form when found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables, fructose reaps havoc on the body when it is isolated, highly concentrated or added to processed foods and beverages.

Fructose is one of two sister molecules that make up sugar. The other is glucose which, according to the Mayo report, is less likely to cause adverse metabolic effects. This is because the body processes these two components quite differently. Glucose is more easily absorbed by our cells and organs to be used as energy. Fructose can only be processed in the liver, overloading that organ. While the body converts both glucose and fructose into fat cells, the fat produced from glucose is more easily burned into energy later. The liver needs three times the energy to burn fat made from fructose. Likewise, research has shown that isolated fructose decreases insulin sensitivity by 25% compared to isolated glucose. Insulin sensitivity means that the body requires more insulin in order to balance blood sugar, which is problematic and may lead to metabolic syndrome.

Isolated fructose also has been shown to promote a greater food intake, body weight, and liver weight in rodents. Again, this stems from the body’s difficulty absorbing fructose. Fructose causes the pancreas to release extra insulin, which in turn blocks the hormone leptin. When the leptin signal is blocked, the brain interprets this as starvation and, in short, tells the body to eat more, even though we don’t need more food.

The Mayo Clinic’s report was careful to distinguish between isolated or added fructose and fructose found naturally in whole foods. While the former is associated with kidney disease, diabetes, increased body weight, and overall metabolic syndrome, the latter is not. Indeed, whole fruits and vegetables may in fact protect against those very risks posed by isolated fructose. The report noted that the concentration of fructose found in whole foods is significantly less than in added fructose. Moreover, whole fruits and vegetables containing fructose are also accompanied by other ingredients, such as water, fiber, and antioxidants, which act to slow absorption and buffer the load of sugar. This is why fruit juice, which has a high concentration of fructose without the buffer of the whole fruit, shares the same markers of increased diabetes and weight gain as isolated fructose.

Making smart choices means that we must limit or altogether eliminate added sugars from our diet and, at the same time, increase whole fruits and vegetables.  Fructose is prevalent in every form of sweetener, both natural and manufactured.  Because approximately 75% of all packaged foods and beverages in the United States contain some form of sweetener, it has become exceedingly difficult for the American consumer to effectively manage their sugar intake.  This is why it is crucial that we make meals at home where it is possible to regulate the amount of added sugar to our food and limit the consumption of processed and packaged foods.


New Study Shows Highly Processed Foods Make Us Hungry For More

A study just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that foods containing a high glycemic index (a.k.a. heavily processed foods) trigger hunger and craving faster than low-glycemic foods.

The subjects, 11 obese and overweight men ranging in age from 18 to 35 years old, were given two liquid meals with nearly identical calories, palatability, and macronutrient composition. The only difference was the form of sugar used – the high-glycemic meal contained light corn syrup and lactaid milk whereas the low glycemic-index meal contained cornstarch and 1% milk.

The results were astonishing – consumption of high-glycemic meals increased brain activity in regions of the brain associated with reward and craving. Those individuals who consumed high-glycemic meals also experienced a significant decline in blood glucose, which triggered hunger faster.

In concluding, the authors state, “These neurophysiologic findings, together with longer feeding studies of weight-loss maintenance, suggest that a reduced consumption of high-GI carbohydrates (specifically, highly processed grain products, potatoes, and concentrated sugar) may ameliorate overeating and facilitate maintenance of a healthy weight in overweight and obese individuals.”


Cereal (DON’T EAT THIS!)

Food is our sustenance. It dictates how we feel, think, and operate on a daily basis. By far, the most important meal of the day is breakfast. Taken literally, the word means to break the fast. Consider that every morning we wake up, we’ve been fasting for 7 to 12 hours. Providing ourselves with a wholesome and nutritious breakfast is the best, most productive way to start the day.

The most important reason not to eat most name-brand cereals is because they have copious amounts of sugar added to them — typically ranging from between two and four teaspoons per cup. The USDA does not recommend added sugars for energy intake because added sugars provide us with no nutrition but lots of empty calories. Furthermore, they leave us with bursts of energy for short periods of time followed by a precipitous drop in energy. Added sugars also release brain chemicals associated with pleasure, such as dopamine, which make us happy while we ingest it, but unhappy when we don’t.

And don’t be quick to trust cereal boxes touting high fiber or whole grains, either. This is merely a marketing ploy to make consumers feel good about the products they purchase while simultaneously distracting people from the reality that simply adding nutrients and whole grains does not make a cereal healthy. Don’t get me wrong — whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Type II Diabetes. But if you eat a bowl of cereal full of added sugar, the health benefits of whole grains are negligible. If you insist on eating cereal for breakfast, find ones that contain a wide variety of whole grains and very little/no added sugars. If you want to sweeten your cereal, consider adding raisins or currants.


Whole Foods Takes Half a Stab at Regulating GM Foods

In a bold move on Friday, Whole Foods Market announced that it will require all genetically modified (GM) products sold in its stores be labeled as GM products by 2018. While I tip my hat to the multinational corporation for essentially accomplishing what our defunct too-big-to-do-anything-right FDA couldn’t – namely protecting the public health – I must say Whole Foods could’ve done better and just banned distribution of GM foods altogether.

Before delving into the why, some background information is helpful for understanding how GM foods are on our shelves in the first place. Under the auspices of the FDA, genetically modified plants are regulated in the same manner as non-genetically modified plants. Essentially, if the end result of a GM food is “substantially equivalent” to the characteristics and composition of its non-GM counterpart, then the agency doesn’t require safety tests (or labeling) before the GM plant is introduced into the food system.

There are two problems with this methodology. First, it focuses on the end result and not the process of genetic modification, which negatively affects not just the human body, but also plant diversity and the ecosystem as a whole. Secondly, this method is reactive as opposed to proactive, meaning that only if a GM plant is tested (independently) and found to be so dissimilar to its non-GM counterpart will the FDA require a more comprehensive evaluation.

Genetically modified crops were first introduced to the U.S. food system nearly two decades ago. Today, more than 80% of corn, soybeans, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the processed foods sold in grocery stores contain GM ingredients. The biotech industry has repeatedly assured the agency that GM crops are no different than non-GM crops and, moreover, they enhance nutrition and increase crop yield by virtue of being more resistant to herbicides, insecticides, and drought.

But independent studies have shown that genetic modification alters the DNA, proteins and nutrients of the plant, which can lead to unexpected changes, such as elevated toxins or allergenic effects. One meta-analysis on mammals fed GM soy and maize indicated liver and kidney toxicity and a disturbance in their immune system cells. And in the few studies conducted on human volunteers, one found that GM soy reacted with the antibodies of people known to have Brazil nut allergies, suggesting GM foods may be allergenic while the other study found a significant level of an insecticidal protein in the blood supply of non-pregnant women and in the fetuses of pregnant women as well.

Not only do GM foods pose a danger to our health, they have also considerably disrupted crop diversity, which is rapidly disappearing as a result of genetic modification. Low genetic diversity makes more crops susceptible to diseases and pests. And the application of herbicides and insecticides does not necessarily protect plants because the increased resistance that is bred into plants is also bred into weeds, insects, and diseases. The short-term solution thus far has been to keep increasing the application of herbicides and pesticides, which is only creating super weeds and super bugs (in fact, there are at least ten species of weeds that are resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup Ready). What’s more, the over-application of pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers is poisoning the soil and water, which are vital to a healthy ecosystem.

If we continue to plant GM crops and continue to buy GM foods, we will perpetuate the harmful effects of genetic modification onto ourselves and onto the planet. So, while the decision by Whole Foods to require labeling of GM foods is a step in the right direction, the corporation could’ve done us all a favor and just altogether banned the sale of GM foods in its stores.

For a more in-depth analysis on genetically modified plants and their effects, visit the Center for Food Safety.