‘Eat your breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day’ is a universal saying worldwide. We were told this growing up and in turn, we pass this onto our children and our children’s children. Some might add “you won’t be able to concentrate at school if you don’t eat” or “you need to put petrol in your car early on in the day to kick start your engine (i.e. metabolism)”. In whichever way we present the message, the goal is the same and that is to eat as close to waking as possible.
The word breakfast was coined using two words and that is ‘breaking your fast’ hence breakfast. Breakfast is the first meal you eat after a period of fasting which occurs naturally at night while you are sleeping. During your ‘sleep fast’, a number of critical bodily processes happen, namely:
Re-energize (the four R’s).
These bodily processes happen in a number of organs and systems of the body i.e. cellular repair of vital organs, bone regeneration and muscle re-energizing to name but a few. All the nutrients from the day before are used to do this. The sleep cycle is critical for these bodily processes to happen and the fasting phase is necessary to allow the body access to the day’s nutrients. Without the sleep combined with the fasting phase, the above will not happen. So sleep + fasting = the four R’s.
Fasting during awake time (i.e. on its own without sleep) will produce a starvation response.
So awake + fasting = starvation.
What happens during starvation is that the body initially uses up all free sugars. Following this, the body uses up the sugar stores (called glycogen). Should the starvation phase continue beyond 10 – 12 awake hours (the range will depend on how much previously-stored sugar there was), the body will start to break down protein. Should the starvation phase persist beyond 12 hours, into a second fasting-awake-phase, the body may start to break down fats. During this phase (protein/muscle breakdown), the body switches to ‘low mode’ by slowing the metabolism down as to conserve energy.
Proponents of the intermittent fasting make two fundamental reasons for fasting:
1. To get the body into fat-burning mode
2. To decrease overall calorie intake.
Reason 1: To get the body into fat-burning mode
Based on our explanation above, intermittent fasting as currently trending does not get to fat-burning phase as the 16 hours as advocated includes 7-10 sleep hours and only 6-9 hours awake time. What is achieved is sugar burning and glycogen access and possibly muscle breakdown hence slowing the metabolism down. Just as one may start going into fat-burning mode, a meal is eaten and the body reverts to using sugars for energy. By this time, however, with a slower metabolism, the body is more eager to store fat and quickly coverts ALL foods into stored fat or glycogen just in case of future ‘fasting’ states.
Reason 2: To decrease overall caloric intake
Studies have shown that people who skipped breakfast and lunch tend to eat the same amount of calories if not more from 4 pm onwards than those who eat 3 to 5 small meals a day.
Another misconception is that when some of us wake in the morning, we are not hungry and thus the thought is to wait to eat until you feel hungry. Sometimes your metabolism needs a key to turn on the ‘body engine’. The key being food. By avoiding food, you are basically ‘pushing’ your ‘car’ until you have your first meal of the day. As you reset your metabolism and get into an appropriate sleep & fast and awake & eat rhythm, with regular activity, you will start to wake up and feel hungry. Yes, some days you will feel hungrier than other days and some meals need more food than other meals. Listen to your body but a lot of us need to reset before we can properly ‘hear’ what our body has to say.
If the above is not enough to convince you to start your day by having a healthy breakfast then consider our ancestors who would be awake and active from sun up to sun down and therefore eat during sunlight hours and sleep during the dark hours. Summer would have a few hours less sleep and more eating hours but also more activity. Winter would bring more sleeping hours and less eating hours but less activity. Children have fewer reserves and need small regular meals to sustain adequate energy for both physical and mental energy. Children learn best by mimicking their role models, us as parents, especially when it comes to personal habits like sleep and eating.
Raising a happy healthy child starts with healthy sensible habits. Maybe our focus should be on what we eat for breakfast vs skipping breakfast.
Then the following foods in any combination make a great breakfast start.
Start you and your child’s day with a glass of fresh water and a squeeze of lemon.
Oats, spelt, quinoa (choose one)
Chia seeds, almonds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds (choose two)
Blueberries, strawberries, banana, dates (choose two)
Low Gi toast, sweet potato bread, rye bread, gluten free bread,
Avocado, hummus, nut butter, egg, cheese (choose two)
Yoghurt full cream, or coconut or soya yogurt alternative
Berries, banana, paw paw, melon (choose two)
Seed mix, chia seed (choose 1 tbsp)
Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans (choose 12 nuts)
Cinnamon and honey
And then always make sure you eat two to three hours before bed and allow for an 8-10 hour’s sleep, resulting in a night fast of 12 hours, thus activating the Four R’s. Remember your child will follow your example so if you skip the ‘petrol’ station so will your child and a child running on empty will not be able to function optimally.
Kath Megaw (BSc Dietetics Hons, Diploma Paediatric Dietetics) holds four medical qualifications including a paediatric dietetic qualification from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Balitmore, USA. She has been published in the Epilepsia journal on the use of the paediatric ketogenic diet in third-world settings and frequently speaks to groups of both professionals and parents on infant and childhood nutrition. Kath is the author of Real Food, Healthy, Happy Children (Quivertree Publications), the co-author of Feeding Sense (Metz press), The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics (Quivertree Publications),as well as co-author of Weaning Sense and Allergy Sense (Quivertree Publications). Kath has been in private practice for over 18 years and is the founder of Nutripaeds, a paediatric dietetic practice.