Does your breakfast consist of a muffin and coffee to go? If so, you may not be giving your brain or your body the nutrients it needs to help you be successful in your business. Naturopathic doctor Neal Barnard, author of Power Foods for the Brain (Hachette Book Group, 2013) says your brain is a function of what you feed it.
While a cup of caffeine-filled coffee and a sugar-packed muffin might have you buzzing with energy in the early morning hours, it will have you desperately reaching for your second cup of coffee by mid-morning. Here's what you should (and shouldn't) consume to start your day:
1. Healthy carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a source of glucose, which the body turns into energy. A good breakfast contains at least one healthy carbohydrate that is low on the glycemic-index scale and won't cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.
Oatmeal and rye toast are good options. "[They] keep you powered longer without any peaks or troughs," says Barnard, giving your brain the fuel it needs to be creative and make good decisions.
2. Low-fat protein. While bacon and sausage are traditional sources of protein in a hearty North American breakfast, Barnard says these are high in cholesterol and fat and won't give you the energy you need to get through the day. "The saturated fat in them is like Vaseline in your blood stream and makes you feel very sluggish," says Barnard, who argues North Americans are missing out on a vital source of protein that's also high in complex carbohydrates and is consumed by people in almost every other country in the world.
"I've noticed that every other country knows about having beans for breakfast. In the United Kingdom, they have baked beans on toast. In Mexico, they have black beans as a breakfast staple. In the Middle East, many countries serve chickpeas as a breakfast food," says Barnard.
3. Fruit smoothie. You may think your day can't begin without caffeine, but Barnard challenges you to give it a try. "Caffeine has a stimulant effect. The problem is that people get used to it," says Barnard. Throughout the day, we end up digging ourselves out of a caffeine hole, resulting in becoming more tired later in the day after drinking coffee than we would have been if we hadn't had that first sip. "Your brain starts to really need it just to feel normal," he says. Instead of coffee, try a breakfast smoothie or natural fruit juice for an energy boost that won't have you collapsing midday.
4. Dairy alternatives. While cow's milk is a great source of protein, Barnard says it's also high in cholesterol and fat, which can leave you feeling depleted of energy as the day wears on. Try non-dairy options such as soy milk, which is rich in protein, has very little saturated fat and is known for its antioxidant properties.
Rice and almond milk are also good options for those who want to monitor their cholesterol or who are lactose intolerant. Both are low in saturated fat, but also contain very little protein.
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