By Naiwen Hu
Sleep, breakfast, and health are closely intertwined. Eating breakfast the right way can keep your mind alert, enhance productivity, prevent weight gain, and reduce the risk of illness.
Though our busy lives may seemingly not allow enough time for a proper, prepared meal, there is no better way to start the day than with a nourishing breakfast. Overlooking the importance of breakfast, may lead to the following three harmful effects:
1. Full Calorie Absorption Leading to Weight Gain
Some people adopt intermittent fasting for weight loss, having only one or two meals a day. However, for some, skipping breakfast is not an effective method for losing weight. Research has found that the body’s metabolism and insulin sensitivity are both higher in the morning. Fasting in the morning and consuming a large amount of food in the evening may increase the risk of metabolic disruptions.
A South Korean study indicated that irregular breakfast consumption habits are associated with an increased risk of metabolic disruptions, especially among young working males. Notably, irregular breakfast eaters had a 15 percent higher risk of abnormal metabolic outcomes.
Conversely, eating breakfast actually contributes to weight loss. A study found that for overweight teenagers, having breakfast, especially when consuming high-protein foods, can improve satiety throughout the day and reduce the desire for evening snacks.
2. Decreased Physical and Memory Performance
Skipping breakfast and engaging in prolonged fasting can lead to low blood sugar, causing a corresponding decrease in glucose levels in the brain. This, in turn, may result in fatigue, lethargy, lack of concentration, and memory decline. Such effects not only impact academic learning and work efficiency but may also contribute to physical weakness or injuries during exercise.
3. Induction of Chronic Diseases
Skipping breakfast may increase the risk of chronic conditions, such as constipation, stomach ulcers, duodenal ulcers, and gallstones. When food is eaten, it stimulates the stomach, initiating reflex movements in the colon to facilitate bowel movements. However, regular omission of breakfast can result in reduced stomach stimulation, weakening the reflex movements in the colon and eventually leading to constipation.
Prolonged fasting denies the stomach the chance to neutralize stomach acid, increasing the risk of duodenal or gastric ulcers. Additionally, it hinders the release of stored bile from the gallbladder, potentially leading to the development of gallstones or gallbladder sludge.
A study found that skipping breakfast increases the risk of gastrointestinal cancers, particularly raising the likelihood of gallbladder cancer and extrahepatic bile duct cancer by nearly fivefold.
Eating at the Right Time to Stay Energetic and Avoid Weight Gain
Ideally, when should one eat breakfast? According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the optimal time for breakfast is between 7 and 9 in the morning. TCM believes that the body’s energy (qi) flows throughout the body along the meridians from the internal organs, and the stomach meridian is most active during this period. Eating breakfast at this time allows for easier digestion and absorption in the digestive system, preventing the accumulation of food in the abdomen and reducing the risk of weight gain. Moreover, it efficiently delivers nutrients to various organs, promoting mental alertness and energy levels while working.
If possible, try waking up a bit earlier and refrain from bringing breakfast to the office or eating on the go. Instead, consider finding a cozy breakfast spot nearby and leisurely enjoy your meal there, or making and eating your meal at home.
Eating Congee for Breakfast Promotes Well-being
Congee (savory rice porridge) is among the healthiest of breakfast options. Zhang Lei, a literary figure from the Song Dynasty, once stated that advocating for congee as a health food is often mocked. However, the secrets of good health lie in daily habits. Eating congee in the morning can “awaken” the spleen and stomach. Its moist texture is gentle on the digestive system, providing a soothing effect on both body and mind.
White rice congee has the effect of nourishing the lungs. If parents notice a child experiencing respiratory discomfort, they might consider serving congee for breakfast.
People with diabetes can include congee in their diet. I have previously discussed on a program the concept of “congee oil” or “rice oil,” referring to the layer that floats on top of the congee. This layer is the essence of the congee and helps lower blood sugar.
Cao Tingdong, a health expert from the Qing Dynasty, stated in his work “Zhou Pu (Congee Recipes)” that congee is particularly beneficial for the elderly, promoting robust health and longevity. As older individuals typically have weaker digestive functions, congee, rich in nutrients, not only provides nourishment but also nurtures the digestive system. Additionally, eating congee can enhance blood circulation and induce a slight perspiration, contributing to overall well-being.
Making congee is simple and takes less than 10 minutes. Wash the rice the night before and add ingredients such as Chinese yam, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, or lily bulbs. Place everything in the electric cooker. Most modern electric cookers have a timer function that allows you to set it to start cooking the next day. If you set it for 6 a.m. t will be ready by 6:40 a.m. and can be enjoyed at 7 a.m.
You can sprinkle a bit of salt into plain congee, then add a century egg and a dash of pork floss. Alternatively, adding some shredded meat turns it into shredded pork congee. For a kid-friendly option, throw in a bit of corn to craft a homemade, hearty breakfast.
3 Principles of a Healthy Breakfast
Whether preparing breakfast at home or eating out, it is essential to follow these three health principles:
1. Avoid Raw and Cold Foods
It is not advisable to eat raw and cold foods for breakfast, as they may harm the digestive system. This includes items like energy-boosting smoothies (vegetable and fruit juice), chilled beverages, yogurt, and lettuce salads.
People with impaired kidney function, in particular, should avoid consuming energy-boosting smoothies as they can increase the burden on the kidneys. I have witnessed several cases where prolonged consumption of such smoothies resulted in kidney failure, necessitating dialysis for some patients.
Lettuce salad is low in calories, making it a popular choice for weight loss. However, raw vegetables contain goitrogens, which can lead to goiter (thyroid enlargement). In my clinical experience, I have observed an increasing number of young girls with thyroid enlargement. They often experience cold extremities and disrupted menstrual cycles, both of which could be related to excessive salad consumption.
2. Limit Intake of Processed Meats
Ham, bacon, and sausages are commonly found in breakfast eateries. While occasional consumption of these processed meats is fine, regularly eating them may increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
A study in the UK, involving more than 470,000 participants tracked for approximately seven years, found that consuming an additional 0.71 ounces (20 grams) of processed meat per day (roughly equivalent to one slice of bacon) increases the risk of colon cancer by 18 percent.
3. Eat Starch in Moderation
Many people, in an effort to lose weight or control blood sugar, refrain from consuming starch. However, grains are crucial for health, and the body requires foods rich in starch, including rice, noodles, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and various whole grains.
In The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, it is stated that there are “five grains for nourishment,” emphasizing the reliance of the human body on various grains. Whole grains promote brain health, provide physical strength and energy, and aid in bowel movements.
A breakfast consisting solely of fruits is not advisable. While fruits are rich in fiber and aid in digestion, it is important to include some starch to provide sufficient energy for bowel movements. Consuming an appropriate amount of starchy foods does not lead to weight gain. Even for individuals aiming to lose weight, it is recommended to incorporate a small amount of starch into their breakfast.
Acupoints Massage for Better Sleep and Increased Energy
To enjoy a good breakfast, it is essential to have quality sleep, enabling one to wake up early and stay alert. I often massage the Shenmen acupoint and the Sanyinjiao acupoint to enhance mental clarity and promote restful sleep. While mental alertness and restful sleep may seem contradictory, both require smooth circulation of blood in the brain. Regularly massaging these two acupoints helps regulate cerebral blood circulation, thus promoting a calm mind and enhancing cognitive abilities.
The Shenmen acupoint is located on the inner side of the wrist, on the transverse crease of the wrist between the pinky and ring fingers. The Sanyinjiao acupoint is located four finger-widths above the inner ankle bone, in the depression along the posterior border of the tibia.
Lastly, I wish everyone restful nights and delightful mornings as they prepare delicious breakfasts for themselves and their families!