Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Diabetes Doesn't Have to be Part of a Complete Breakfast

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: the single, most effective change in your diet is changing your breakfast.  It is the simplest change to implement and starts your day on the right path.  Change your breakfast first.

Let's discuss why a change is necessary.  What makes the traditional American complete breakfast so wrong?

Read this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  Did it make you scream like me?  Shouldn't educators know better?  ARGH!  Here are some gems:
Waffles might soon be on the menu at two Watsonville elementary schools, if the Pajaro Valley Unified School District gets $27,000 in state grants they've applied for to improve their breakfast programs.
 The kids could munch on yogurt, muffins, string cheese and waffles while teachers take attendance.
the kicker:
 "It definitely won't be doughnuts," she said. "We want to provide a nutritious breakfast."

THIS is why there is a problem, Houston.  Educators can't see that waffles (drenched in syrup of course) and muffins (especially if they are whole grain and/or contain sugared fruit) AREN'T a better choice than doughnuts.  Can the protein and fat (how much do you want to bet the yogurt and cheese will be reduced-fat?) in the pasteurized, grain-fed dairy even come close to balancing out that refined sugar?  Can you see why there might be such high incidence of ADHD amongst children fed so much sugar?  Doesn't it irk you that the educators who should know better don't have a clue? *screaming at the top of my lungs with frustration!!!*

You Call This Complete?

Okay, so why not feed kids what everyone tells us to: cereal and milk?  You have all seen the commercials; they're part of a complete breakfast.  A bowl of cereal alongside a piece of fruit, toast, glass of OJ, and glass of milk.  Classic.  Breakfast cereal as our morning staple has been inGRAINed in our culture for over a century.  Let's balance the books on the "complete breakfast" and discuss why this is NOT optimal fuel for anyone--especially kids!

1 cup of let's say a middle of the road cereal like Cornflakes (probably too bland for most kids, but let's err on the side of seemingly less sugary breakfast cereal)
Fat: 0g, Carb minus Fiber: 23g, Protein: 2g    Zone Blocks:  2.5 Carb
(here is my source for nutrition facts and Zone diet lists like this are useful based on the 3g of Fat per block, 7g of Protein per block, and 9g of Carbohydrate per block--usually taking only the highest macronutrient of a food)

1/2 cup of 1% milk    Zone Blocks:  0.5 Protein and 0.5 Carbohydrate (combo food)  (we are using "healthier" 1% fat milk since we all know that fat is bad but skim milk tastes like water)

1 banana     Zone Blocks: 3 Carb  

1 cup orange juice     Zone Blocks: 3 Carb  

1 cup 1% milk  Zone Blocks:  1 Protein and 1 Carb    

1 slice of classic Wonder bread  Zone Blocks: 2 Carb

1T jam  Zone Blocks: 0.5 Carb (because we all know that butter is bad and high fructose corn syrup-laden jam is SO much healthier--hey, its fruit, right?)

Zone Block Totals for this "Complete Breakfast": Fat: 0  Protein: 1.5  Carbohydrate: 12.5

Even worse, let's cut out the cereal and feed our kids a "nutritious" waffle breakfast with each waffle at 2 Carbohydrate blocks and 2tsp syrup accounting for each additional Carb block.  Two waffles with a modest 2T of syrup delivers 7 blocks of Carbohydrate with NO fat and NO protein.  That atrocity isn't even taking into account the heavy processing and high fructose corn syrup.  Sound nutritious?

Results of the Complete Breakfast:
1.  Quick energy followed by a crash soon after--ever feel like a mid-morning nap?  Perhaps this "complete" breakfast is one reason why we have such a coffee addiction...
2.  Lack of concentration--you are on a hormone roller coaster, good luck staying focused!  According to the Zone diet, a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates is essential to balance your hormones and give you and even keel.  This makes sense to me--I have definitely felt sleepy after a huge pancake breakfast or pasta meal.  Imagine how the kids feel flying high on sugar from breakfast!
3.  Hungry within hours--since this meal was so overbalanced with carbs, you'll be hungry soon after.  There is no satiety here.  A breakfast deficient in fat spells hunger since fat is what slows down your digestion and promotes satiety.  Don't get me started on how much the non-fat movement is misinformed, unhealthy, and downright dangerous...
4.  Cranky and moody--yup, more perks of the hormonal roller coaster!
5.  Insulin resistance--since you gave your body a nice megadose of sugar to deal with good luck not overreacting to all subsequent foods you eat.  See more system mechanics here.
6.  Fat storage--the excess carbohydrate must go somewhere after you fill up your muscle and liver cells.  Guess where?

Let's get to know our pal, Glucose

Glucose is a fuel for the body.  Your body needs it and your brain can't function without it.  It is a simple sugar that all carbohydrate sources break down into.  The speed of carbohydrate digestion (breaking a carbohydrate down into its constituents) depends upon the chemical bonds between the sugars that make up the carbohydrate and the presence of fat, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.  The bloodstream is where is all goes down: glucose enters, the hormone insulin is released to get it out into the cells before its levels become toxic and lead to all sorts of nasties.  Glucose is used for energy in muscle and liver cells, but excess is stored in fat cells, making you fatter.  Thus, too much carbohydrate makes you fat.  But that is a story for another day.  Read Pasta Sans Pasta for more information about glucose and blood sugar.

What Glucose Means To Your Body: The Glycemic Index

The glycemic index measures how quickly glucose enters your bloodstream after you ingest a food item.  Quick transfer means your body has an insulin crisis on its hands.  The glycemic index is based upon a scale where pure glucose is 100 for 50g of pure carbohydrate to rank its rapid transfer from your digestive system to your bloodstream compared to 50g of carbohydrate in other foods.  Another lesser-used standard used is white bread, which would be set at 100 and glucose would then be 140 (funny when you realize bread is nothing but sugar to your body).  Either way, shoot for foods below 50 to have a lower glycemic diet.  These foods tax your body less and don't put you on a hormonal roller coaster.  What carbohydrates are low glycemic?  Most fruits and veggies (tropical fruit and root veggies are exceptions).  The more you process and refine a source, the worse it becomes.  For example, take table sugar (sucrose) at an average of 68 on the glycemic index.  With glycemic indices of 42 (All-Bran) to 113 (New Zealand's Fruity-Bix), seemingly healthy breakfast cereals are as bad or worse than sucrose to your body.  Let me say that again since it is so important: processing grains makes them as sugary or even more sugary to your body as pure sugar.
Limitations: the glycemic index measures carbohydrates and their glucose entering the bloodstream, so it doesn't apply well to protein or fat.  Also, it measures 50 grams of carbohydrate of the food in question, which may be quite a hefty quantity of some foods and nowhere near appropriate serving size.  Finally, everyone's body is different, so I suggest you try to figure out your own responses to foods to see how they effect you.  HOWEVER, this doesn't mean that since you have been eating bread forever and have never felt anything wrong there is no reason to give it up.  WRONG!  Try going without grains for 2 weeks.  Then, introduce grains back in and see what happens.  If you really went cold turkey on all grains, then you'll likely get sick from eating them again or at the very least have a terrific carb hangover the next day.  Bleary, puffy eyes, crankiness, congestion or drippiness, repetitive snooze button pressing: these are the gifts of grain.  Good luck taking back bread/rice/pasta and re-entering the grain-induced coma.  Dude, I get a sniffle just from eating rice!  Seriously!

To summarize: the glycemic index measures how fast carbohydrates in food are broken down into their constituent sugars during digestion so that the sugar glucose enters the bloodstream.  Values close to 100 spike your blood sugar rapidly, while those lower on the scale are less likely to overload your bloodstream because they are entering at a rate insulin can handle.  Shoot for foods below 50 to have a lower glycemic diet.

Here is a comprehensive website listing of foods and their glycemic values from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Here is a searchable database for looking up different foods.

Let's look at our complete breakfast above for how it tallies in glycemic index:
Cornflakes      Glycemic Index: 92 (from this chart's USA value)

Milk               Glycemic Index: 11-41 for skim milk to full fat
(since there is no 1% milk from the USA in the database)
Banana        Glycemic Index: 51  
Orange Juice     Glycemic Index: 52  
Bread (say Wonder bread)  Glycemic Index: 73
(believe it or not, this is middle of the road for all breads, even whole wheat)
Jam (say Strawberry)  Glycemic Index: 51

and our nutritious alternative:
Aunt Jemima waffles  Glycemic Index: 76
Maple flavored syrup  Glycemic Index: 68

Another Layer of Complexity

The glycemic index only gives a partial picture of food since it doesn't account for portion size.  The glycemic load is another scale that takes into account portion size with the idea that consuming low quantity of high glycemic food has the same effect on the blood as higher quantity of lower glycemic food.  It is calculated by quantity of carbohydrate in the food (minus the fiber) in grams times glycemic index value divided by 100 (the last step is optional and some GL values are given in numbers greater than 500).  When divided by 100, the numbers are lower than the GI scale. Values of 10 or less are considered low and values 20 and greater are high.  Some foods that are high on the glycemic index are lower when you take into account how much carbohydrate is in them--this includes high glycemic fruits filled with water and fiber (ex. watermelon with a glycemic index of 72 but only a glycemic load of 4).  Not surprisingly, the concentrated sugars in dates and raisins place them high on both glycemic scales.

For the most part, foods we should avoid anyway that are high on the glycemic index also have a high glycemic load.  Most fruits and vegetables are low are both scales.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition's listing also provides glycemic load values on its chart.

Check out the chart for the GI and GL of common foods.  Notice those "healthy" cereals that are part of a "complete" breakfast.  Nice to know that sugar is part of a complete breakfast.

Let's look at our complete breakfast above for how it tallies in glycemic load (remember, values of 10 or less are considered low glycemic load):
Cornflakes      Glycemic Load: 24 (from this chart's USA value)

Milk               Glycemic Load: 1-5 for skim milk to full fat 
(since there is no 1% milk from the USA in the database)

Banana        Glycemic Load: 13
Orange Juice     Glycemic Load: 12
Bread (say Wonder bread)  Glycemic Load: 10
Jam (say Strawberry)  Glycemic Load: 10

and our nutritious alternative:
Aunt Jemima waffles  Glycemic Load: 10
Maple flavored syrup  Glycemic Load: 15

So, what are high glycemic foods?

Grains are!  Most breads come in at 40-75 on the glycemic index (5-12 GL), pastas 45-60 (15-30+ GL), and grain-based breakfast cereals are almost laughable: not only are their glycemic indices close to (even exceeding!) 100, but their glycemic loads are reaching and exceeding 20.

Here are some examples:
71 GI / 18 GL  for Golden Grahams (I used to eat those like chips and devour a whole box in a day!)

76 GI / 17 GL for Total (more like Totally sugar--I thought this was a bland, healthy, adult cereal!)

74 GI / 15 GL for Cheerios (the "heart healthy" food)
89 GI / 23 GL for plain, old Rice Chex!

82 GI / 22 GL for Rice Crispies (snap, crackle, pop!  is that the sound of your insulin?)
Can you believe that Special K (69 GI/14 GL) is basically the same as Fruit Loops (69 GI/18 GL) to your body?

As a college kid, I thought that eating cheap cereal was great because it was fortified and "healthy" enough to be my 3 meals a day!  OMG

Some grains and legumes are a mixed bag: some low, some high, but really not ideal when you take into account antinutrients, gluten, and lectin (see Pasta Sans Pasta for more discussion about these).

The next highest glycemic index foods are root veggies like starches and some fruits, mainly tropical varieties.  For example, corn (54 GI/ 9 GL), carrots (47 GI/ 3 GL), beets (64 GI/ 5 GL), potatoes (50-80+ GI/ 10-20+ GL), and sweet potatoes (61 GI/ 17 GL).  We already covered fruits and their lower proportion of carbohydrate accounting for a lower glycemic load in most cases.  Here are some examples: apples (38/6), grapefruit (25/3), grapes (46/8), mango (51/8), orange and peach (42/5), and strawberries (40/1).  Starches (including grains, pasta, and potatoes) are the storage form of energy in plants.  Your digestive enzymes rapidly convert starches to glucose, hence their high glycemic index values.  Preparation and types of starches can effect their glycemic index quite significantly, but safe to say they are medium to high regardless.  Check out our discussion of sweet potatoes from a previous post.

Besides root and starchy vegetables, other vegetables are not listed on the glycemic index or load charts.  This is because they have so little carbohydrate content that one would have to eat an enormous amount to get any glycemic rating.  So you can eat your veggies guilt free!

Lesson Learned?

Eat your fruit and veggies.  Eat high glycemic root veggies, fruits, and other starches in moderation.  Sadly the "complete breakfast" is a money making myth propagated by mega corporations to sell their sugary products.  And to whom do they advertise to seal the deal?  Children, who can pressure their parents and keep the myth alive from generation to generation.  From the article on school breakfasts, it looks like these companies have done a great job duping the general public and educators alike.

But now you know better.  A REAL complete breakfast is balanced fat, carbohydrate, and protein consisting of real, whole foods (if anything, we've learned to err on the side of lower carbohydrate quantity, NEVER higher).  Our paleo-style prescription of eating meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar, no grains, no legumes, and little to no dairy holds water when applied to the glycemic scales.  And now you know why it says "some fruit" and not all you can eat.  There is more to this story with type of sugar and the evils of fructose, but we'll save that for next time, Gadget, next time.

In the meantime, here is my fruit for the day.  After this, it is all veggies.  To some, this may be more morning sugar than they can take, and since everyone is different, I suggest you experiment to see what your body thrives upon.  This is sweet enough for the sugar-fiend inside me, but chock full on antioxidants and insulin-boosting Ceylon cinnamon.   Delicious!

Hot Apple Berry Cinnamon Breakfast
So syrupy sweet with cinnamon spice--it fragrances the house and warms your belly!
Cooking Time: start to finish less than 10 minutes

1 apple  (medium to large or 2 tiny ones), sliced into bite-sized slivers
1/2 to 1 cup frozen berries
Ceylon cinnamon

Toss apple slices with plenty of cinnamon in a microwavable bowl or on a microwavable plate.  Microwave uncovered for 2 minutes.  Remove, add berries (still frozen, right from the freezer bag is fine).  Dash cinnamon on top.  Microwave another 2 minutes until berries are warm and syrupy.  Remove, dust again with cinnamon if desired (and I ALWAYS desire).  Stir to combine and feast upon this warm, fruity delight!  And for extra deliciousness, drizzle in any remaining cooking fat from the breakfast skillet.  Yum!

My Complete Breakfast breakdown:
2 egg   Fat: 2  Protein 2  GI: 10 (from here)  GL?
1 Aidells chicken apple sausage   Protein: 2B (unknown GI, GL)
1T coconut oil    Fat: 4B  (unknown GI, GL)
1 apple    Carb: 2B  GI: 38  GL: 6
1/2c berries   Carb: 1B  GI: 32 (from here) GL:?

Zone Block Totals: Fat: 6  Protein: 4  Carbohydrate: 3  with GIs all under 50 and GLs all under 10 (for those that are known, and from what we have learned above, it seems reasonable to assume that the others are in this range too).  Although not perfectly Zone, it works for me for my goals since I am trying to go low-carb and fuel myself on fat!
My results: no hunger for 5 hours, superb concentration and focus, high energy, clear head, motivation, and most importantly: happiness!
Give it a try!

Final Thought:
Knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility.  So what are you going to do with this knowledge?

Cereal on FoodistaCereal


  1. Hi Kristy,

    Awesome post, and you are totally correct. Thank you so much for sharing and the qualification. Lookin' good in the rodeo! :-) JO

  2. That breakfast sounds/looks amazing... going to have to try this! Thanks for sharing!