Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just Say No...to Juice?

No, you haven't entered the Twilight Zone, but didn't I tell you that we are turning everything we know about health and nutrition on its head?  Nothing is sacred; nothing is safe.  Especially not juice.

52-10 is a health initiative run by Go For Health! of Santa Cruz.  It's campaign is designed to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce childhood obesity rates.  While you'd have to be crazy not to see the benefit in 5 or more fruits and veggies a day, 2 hours or less of screen time (tv, computer, or video game), 1 hour or more of vigorous exercise, and 0 soda or sugar sweetened beverages, not everyone understands that last prescription.  What exactly are "sugar sweetened beverages"?  Does that just mean artificial sugar or do natural sugars fit in this equation?

My argument is that fruit juice is no different than soda to your body, or your child's body.  Surprising?  Of course it is!  This is a HUGE blow to the fruit juice industry creating "healthy" alternatives to soda and their kin.  This is also a touchy subject for parents who wouldn't dream of letting their kids drink soda and yet fuel them with juice (even 100% juice) at every opportunity.  Just.  As.  Bad.

The Straight Juice

I know this comes as a shock.  Who hasn't chosen 100% juice over those inferior sugar-sweetened ones with the self-satisfaction of being a mindful, informed, better-than-the-masses consumer?  Who hasn't felt better about themselves for choosing Jamba Juice over other fast food?  I know I have. We all know that soda is the devil, energy drinks are its mutated offspring, and fruit juice is natural and full of the "good" stuff.  We ALL know this.  But we are being duped.  They are really no different, especially if you overload on the juice thinking it's the best choice.

Why so bad?  Anything easy comes with a price.  There is a cost to convenience.  Processed foods are easier than home-cooked, but we know they are not on par nutritionally and come with the burden of additives and preservatives.  Drinking juice is so much easier, more convenient, and more instantly gratifying than dirtying ourselves with actually eating a piece of fruit.  But it comes with a price.  Not only does juicing a fruit take away its satiating fiber that keeps you from eating a bushel of apples at one sitting, but it also strips the nutrients found in the original fruit.  According to Mark's Daily Apple, calorie for calorie, juice contains more sugar than the fruit itself.  You can easily drink more sugar than you could ever hope to eat in whole fruit.  Juice's lack of fiber allows its sugars to spike your blood sugar since there is no fiber-mediated regulation of digestion that you get when you eat the whole fruit.  Okay, so more sugar and less nutrition.  "Yeah, yeah," you say.  These are "pretty obvious" said in the most smug Professor Gilderoy Lockhart voice.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

That Pesky Juice Stain

Of course we all know that despite the bogus "okay in moderation" campaign of high fructose corn syrup producers, HFCS is the ultimate evil.  But fruit is another source of fructose, and it is not as benign as we may think.  The short story: there is a deadly cycle of fructose leading to fat storage and telling your brain you are still hungry.

For example, fructose has the opposite effect of glucose on the hypothalamus section of the brain controlling feeding behavior.  While blood glucose levels are sensed by the brain and signal a secession to eating, fructose bypasses this metabolic step and actually promotes food intake to continue instead of signaling an end to eating.  That's terrifying!  More dangers to kids from drinking juice are highlighted in this article from ScienceDaily, namely: increased risk of obesity (Note: this is a point of contention with studies citing evidence for and against), heart disease, high blood pressure, cavities, bone fractures, and impeded growth.  Lastly, and I can personally attest to this fact that just like fructose can desensitize your insulin, it can desensitize your taste for sugary foods, requiring more sugary foods to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Interlude: Perhaps we should have taken Ben Franklin's rants more seriously: "Hot things, sharp things, sweet things, cold things All rot the teeth and make them look like old things."

So, how does it fructose metabolism work?  Basically, fructose goes to your liver for processing.  Fructose undergoes enzyme reactions in the liver leading to glycogen synthesis (to replenish liver glycogen storage, its energy source) and triglyceride (fat) synthesis once the glycogen stores are filled up.  Triglycerides are released into the bloodstream and some become incorporated into very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), the precursor to small, dense LDL particles that are the baddest of the bad.   Here is a technical article on fructose metabolism, another that's a little more digestible, and wikipedia's layman summary.

Believe it or not, excessive fruit and fruit juice can lead to higher risk of gout, as this study shows.  Notice, not only soft drink consumption, but fruit and fruit juice consumption lead to this increased risk.  Gout is a painful joint swelling as joint tissues accumulate crystals of uric acid, a by-product of overloaded fructose metabolism in your liver.  Uric acid also promotes insulin resistance, meaning cells become desensitized to insulin and it takes higher and higher levels of insulin to do its job: getting glucose from the blood into the cells.  Too much glucose or insulin in the blood is toxic, and the burden to produce more and more insulin to elicit an effect is taxing on the pancreas.

Now take a deep breath, and continue down the rabbit hole with me.

Not only does high fructose intake increase the risk of gout, but it can more direly lead to a fatty liver, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disorder (NAFLD), whose long-term effects are not yet known.  We do know that NAFLD can progress into more dangerous liver inflammation, which has been linked to liver cancer and cirrhosis, so they seem to be a possibility here too.  Another complication of NAFLD is insulin resistance (yes, that again).

And don't go thinking that table sugar is much better than fructose because table sugar is fructose bound to glucose in the form of sucrose, and the fructose portion is what leads to problems.  Fructose is a fructose is a fructose, no matter the source: sugar, HFCS, or fruit.

 Fructose, according to Robert Lustig, a pediatric neuroendocrinologist, is a poison.  Above is a great (albeit LONG) presentation on the evils of fructose.  He cites studies that show fruit juice intake leads to increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes.  He argues that fructose leads to hypertension (high blood pressure), myocardial infarction (heart attack), dyslipidemia (elevated fats in the blood), pancreatitis (inflamed or infected pancreas), obsesity, hepatic (liver) disfunction, fetal insulin resistance, and habituation if not addiction.  All of these serious health problems are also associated with alcohol which is metabolized the exact same way by the body, causing Lustig to call fructose "alcohol without the buzz."

This is actually a very fitting analogy because, in my personal experience, overloading on carbohydrates without much protein or fat makes me feel literally drunk.  I get dizzy, giddy, and light-headed just from  sweet BBQ-slathered ribs and side of sweet potato fries and cole slaw.  Seriously.  Lame.  Godforbid I actually consume alcohol!  One drink and I am sloshed.  Can you say cheap date?

Knowledge is Power: What's the Next Step?

Lustig's suggestion:

  • Get rid of every sugared liquid in the house. Kids should drink only water and milk.
  • Provide carbohydrates associated with fiber.
  • Wait 20 minutes before serving second portions.
  • Have kids buy their “screen time” minute-for-minute with physical activity.

Robb Wolf's suggestion: ditch some of those high energy carbs and replace them with fat to avoid becoming an Always Hungry Carb Crash Zombie (AHCCZ).  According to his article "42 Ways to Skin the Zone," an AHCCZ is getting too many carbs too often.  While low-carb diets (as long as they are rich in protein and fat) create satiation and reduced hunger, carbohydrate-rich diets (say like the one promoted by the USDA food pyramid???) increase hunger.  The answer?  Reduce high density carbohydrate sources in your diet (i.e. grains (duh), starches, high glycemic fruits, and any fruit juice since they are ALL high glycemic) by replacing some with fat and making less energy dense carbohydrates like veggies your go-to's.    Lean meats, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and NO sugar, NO grains, NO dairy, and NO legumes actually works.  Believe me.

Finally, read labels.  Don't buy anything with high fructose corn syrup and its guises: isoglucose, maize syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, and glucose/fructose.  Also avoid any added sweeteners like:
sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, crystallized fructose, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, glucose-fructose, granulated fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar. 
And guess what?  Sorry to burst the "all natural" sweetener bubble, but agave nectar is essentially high fructose corn syrup.  Even though it sports a low glycemic index and may be all natural, it is still fructose to your body and a nice, high, concentrated source of it.  Sorry.  Here are some arguments against agave as a "natural" sweetener.

In conclusion: make fruit juice a rare treat, if a treat at all.  Instead: eat the whole fruit.  You are unlikely to overeat the real, whole fruit filled with its nutrients and fiber.  Also, just as important: eat plenty of vegetables--DO NOT make fruit your only or major carbohydrate source!

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

Can't stand cold water this chilly time of year or just hate its plain, wet taste?  Try tea!  Try brewing tea and NOT adding any sugar or milk.  Dare you!  First, try fruity herbal teas (or "infusions" as my husband would correct me since they lack tea leaves).  The dried fruit adds a sweetness that will get you over your sugar hump.  Next, try all different kinds of infusions and teas until you find some you like and can stand without the sweetener.  As with all things processed, the less processing the better, so loose leaf is preferable to tea bag, with regard to taste too.  Always check the labels to avoid soy, corn, wheat, and sugar that wheedle their way into everything.

I found unsweetened tea to be a great way to gain back my sense of sweetness and love of undiluted flavor.  Try it hot or chilled!  In fact, I am going to get a steaming mug right now...

Instead of ending with a recipe, let me feed your mind:

With crimson juice the thirsty southern sky
Sucks from the hills where buried armies lie,
So that the dreamy passion it imparts
Is drawn from heroes' bones and lovers' hearts.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Box Without Hinges,

key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid."  The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I am happy many of you can find solace in having eggs every day for breakfast. I know I can.  They are a highlight of my day!  They come in all varieties and with many accouterments.  On the go?  Have them hard-boiled or as convenient muffins!  Sick of plain?  Have them with other meats and veggies in omelets, frittatas, or even as Sausage and Egg Muffins!

But Aren't Eggs Bad For You?

Eggs have been maligned by the media and FDA for years for their high cholesterol and saturated fat, which supposedly make them contributory to heart disease.  We already confronted the saturated fat myth in a previous post.  Remember, it isn't the cholesterol that is the big deal, its the LDL particle size that seems more relevant to heart disease.  Carbohydrates are what actually lead to high triglicerides, which certainly do correlate with increased risk of heart disease.  This study reviews the literature and finds no correlation between eggs and higher cholesterol or higher incidence of heart disease, as does this study and this one, aptly titled "Regular egg consumption does not increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases."  Another study shows that even amongst the elderly, three eggs a day did not increase their risk of heart disease.  Have we put the myth to rest?

The Incredible Edible Egg

Eggs are nutritional powerhouses.  They contain fat and protein along with all the constituent vitamins in a convenient serving size.  Eggs are rich in choline, a B vitamin.  Choline has a slew of healthy properties, namely: cell membrane structure and function, especially in the brain;  being a vital component in cellular processes (methylation); serving as a key component of a neurotransmitter (acetylcholine); reducing inflammation; and protecting against cardiovascular disease (say what?!).  The B vitamins in eggs are responsible for converting a dangerous molecule (homocysteine) that can damage blood vessels into more benign substances.  Eggs also contain proteins that inhibit blood clots, which can lead to stroke and heart attack.  Eggs may even improve your cholesterol: an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that children eating eggs actually increased their LDL particle size!  Eggs are also beneficial for weight loss.  One study found that those eating eggs instead of bagels with the same caloric load lost almost twice as much weight and greatly reduced their waist circumferences.  Almost more importantly, no differences were seen between triglicerides, total cholesterol, or HDL and LDL counts, which provides more evidence against the cholesterol myth.  Another study also found that egg breakfasts provided more satiety and reduced snacking than bagel breakfasts, which would give credence to eggs as a component of weight loss plans.  Finally, eggs are good for your eyesight: they contain more eye-protecting carotenoids than supplements or green veggies, which protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.  Whew, what a list!

The Dark Side of the Egg

Now that we have poked holes in the cholesterol and saturated fat arguments, let's move on to other claims.  Scared of Salmonella poisoning?  Wash your hands and cook your eggs thoroughly.  Also, don't eat factory farmed eggs.  Numerous studies cited by this article from The Humane Society of the United States have found that Salmonella is significantly higher among high density, caged hens responsible for conventional eggs than uncaged hens.  Wow, what a surprise!  After reading that article on inhumane treatment, want to get even more angry?  Read up on the opposition to Proposition 2 in California, which passed (thankfully) in 2008 to set standards for animal confinement.  Now you know why I buy 100% grass-fed beef and farmer's market eggs...


No, not spiders this time but a very real threat indeed, giving rise to why we probably shouldn't eat eggs as our primary protein for every meal.  Give this brief post from The Whole Health Source a read (the author of which is a doctor of neurobiology).  Here are some important points:
Eggs are an exceptionally nutritious food, as are all foods destined to nourish a growing animal. However, one concern lies in eggs' high concentration of arachidonic acid (AA), a long-chain omega-6 fat that is the precursor to many eicosanoids. Omega-6 derived eicosanoids are essential molecules that are involved in healing, development and defense. Some of them are inflammatory mediators that can contribute to disease when present in excess. Eggs are one of the main sources of AA in the modern diet.
Barry Sears, Zone diet founder, also has a beef with AA (heh).  He wants zoners to limit arachidonic acid sources like eggs, red meat, and organ meats since they elevate "bad" eicosanoids.  While a balance of "good" and "bad" eicosanoids is necessary for hormonal balance, overbalanced "bad" eicosanoids lead to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.  Note: don't you kinda feel like you are being talked down to when you see the terms "good" and "bad"?  I know I do.  But then, I am not a biochemist...  Anyway, here is his take from an interview with Smart Publications author David Brown:
Eicosanoids are really your master hormones. They control inflammation, but they also control so much more. They virtually control the release and synthesis of all other hormones. So, in many ways, they're kind of the "Intel® computer chip" running both our bodies and every aspect of our physiology because of that very profound dietary control. With our diet, we control the balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, and the better we maintain that balance the more well we become. Conversely, the more we let that balance get out of whack, making more pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, the more rapidly we move toward chronic disease. 
I guess I am still on the "good" and "bad" level if all of this seems a little over my head on the biochemical level.  I need to do more research to fully understand his caution against eggs.  Even the Paleo Diet cautions against egg quantity advising only six a week.  Cordain's concerns parrot the cholesterol and saturated fat argument, but also add an interesting claim that high heat cooking increases cholesterol oxidation, leading to the production of dangerous cholesterol (small, dense LDL particles?).  The articles on heart-healthy eggs didn't encounter this aspect.  Surprisingly, I did find that undercooking methods like the poaching Cordain recommends actually leave intact an anti-nutrient called avidin, which makes his recommendation surprising given that anti-nutrients are the rationale for most paleo diet restrictions.  Despite Cordain's caution, Robb Wolf who has brought paleo to the CrossFitting masses doesn't see a reason to limit eggs, but like Cordain suggests omega-3 enriched eggs for their better fatty acid profile.   Bottom line: I think the "good" outweigh the "bad" in this case, although I won't be eating eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Live Earth Farm pasture-raised chicken egg

Which Eggs Are Best?

One valid concern with purchasing eggs is that it is difficult to determine which aren't factory farmed.  The best bet: buy them from the farmer's market.  A small, scale independent farmer's chickens get a healthy variety of food from the land they live on, which leads to healthier eggs.  Mark's Daily Apple does a good job of cutting to the chase with the different terms on the egg cartons.  Basically, "free range" and "all natural" are meaningless terms that don't mean healthier or humanely raised chickens and even "cage free" can just mean overcrowded hen houses.  "Organic" is better with restrictions on food, flock size, and indoor living.  "Omega-3 enriched eggs" are usually organic and cage-free with a diet that includes supplementation to increase their omega-3 ratio.  We'll tackle the omega-3 topic in another post, but suffice to say, they are freakin' healthy fats.  Pasture-raised eggs are ideal, but Mark suggests you look into your egg producers to make sure the chickens are actually living their lives on the land.  This study compared pasture-raised to factory-farmed conventional eggs and found pasture-raised may contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

Omega-3 enriched eggs or pasture-raised eggs are also the answer to reduce harmful arachidonic acid.   According to this study, omega-3 enriched eggs have 39% reduction in arachidonic acid compared to "barn-laid" eggs.

Practically speaking, they just taste better.  Omega eggs and pasture-raised eggs have tall, orange yolks that stand up to casual mixing (see the picture above).  Don't settle for runny, yellow eggs!  And their taste?  Well, they taste like eggs!  Their eggy flavor is unsurpassed and noticeably absent from conventional eggs.  I can tell the difference when a restaurant serves me sub-par eggs.

Here are some links to help you find pasture-raised eggs:
Local Harvest

After all this, perhaps you too can find the humor in the Center for Science in the Public Interest running around like a chicken with--well, you know--trying to get the FDA to ban companies from making claims about the heart-healthy nature of omega eggs.  Hmmmm, I wonder if factory farms are funding this sentiment?  It is also nice to see the American Heart Association is still feeding us the cholesterol and saturated fat misinformation by the carton-ful.  Their stance:  sure, you can have eggs, but since one egg accounts for 71% of your daily cholesterol allowance for a normal adult, you can only have one and good luck eating within the cholesterol limit if you have any other meat or dairy that day.  But sure, according to them "an egg can fit within heart-healthy guidelines," emphasis mine.  I think they should actually take a look at the current cholesterol research and re-evaluate their stance.

The Bottom Line: despite this fear-mongering, the data points to eggs as a healthy part of your diet, not as a harbinger of coronary heart disease.  So go ahead and eat your eggs and try to find local, organic, pasture-raised sources for your precious eggsesses.

Here is a great recipe for egg muffins.  I was inspired by this recipe I found at Norcal Strength and Conditioning.  I just simplified it and tightened it up Zone-wise to fit my needs.  Give them a try!  They're delicious!

Sausage and Egg Muffins
Crunchy crisp sausage suspended inside a light, airy egg muffin.  Convenience to die for!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: about 20 minutes depending upon muffin cup size

eggs (see Calculations for quantity)
sausage (I use Aidells chicken apple sausage) (see Calculations for quantity)
1T coconut oil

Zone Blocks: figure out how many blocks you want to eat or just be reasonable with portions.  I have found that large muffin cups can hold 1/2 a sausage (1 block of Protein) and 1.5 eggs (1.5 blocks of Protein and Fat) without overflowing, so 2.5 blocks total of Protein and 1.5 of Fat, plus the coconut oil rounds out the Fat blocks.  Each would be half a meal for my 5 block husband, but not a bad portion for a child or me, if I am having one for a snack or light meal.  You can play around with the egg and sausage portion to get what you need.  If I make the same recipe using regular-sized muffin cups, it takes 2 muffins to get that 2.5 block portion.  Egg is very sticky, though, and like cement when it dries, so please use silicone cups or line your muffin tin--even if it's nonstick!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut squares of parchment paper to stuff inside large muffin tin cups or use silicone muffin cups if you have them and whatever size muffin tin fits your calculations.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add coconut oil.  Chop up the sausage (I know, chopping is a pain--at least cut the disks in half).   Once the coconut oil has melted, add the sausage and brown it on all sides.  I am not sure if it is true of every sausage, but for the Aidells: the more brownage, the better.  I have blackened them and they are delicious--but I bet the carbon isn't all that healthy.  Anyway, in the meantime,  crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk them.  Once the sausage is done, divide it up into portions and place in the muffin cups.  If you desire, add the remaining coconut oil from the pan to the eggs, but whisk constantly to avoid curdling.  Some of this oil will moisten the muffin cup bottoms, but I figure a little more healthy fat isn't a bad thing.  Scoop the egg mixture into the muffin cups using a measuring cup for more accuracy.  Just keep distributing evenly until your bowl is empty.  Now, if you filled your cups really high, you might want to take out some insurance and place a sheet pan beneath them to catch any overflow.  Egg is a nasty thing to spill.  Believe me.  Place your muffins in the middle of your oven and let 'em bake.  How long depends on the size of your muffins and oven peculiarities.  Large muffins take longer, up to 25 minutes, while regular-sized muffins can take half that time.  Look for puffed-up muffins, light golden brown tops, and a fully-set middle (no wiggle).   Once done, allow them to cool (they'll deflate and look wrinkly, but taste is what matters!) and then store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for about a week.  Easy!

Serving Suggestion:
Have this all protein and fat muffin with some carb to balance it out.  Usually a piece of fruit is great for an on-the-go breakfast!
Egg on FoodistaEgg

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