My favourite- Brilliant Vegetarian Breakfasts!

I am a HUGE breakfast fan. Especially because it sets the tone for your eating habits for the rest of the day. Being vegetarian has posed some challenges with eating a healthy breakfast but one can be innovative! I  am not a fan of popular breakfast cereals- i.e shredded wheat, popped rice, corn flakes, bran flakes, milled maize/ soya porridges etc. These tend to be overly refined, as well as contain too many preservatives, additives and sugar/ sugar substitutes. Processing a whole grain (eg. rice, wheat, maize or soya) removes most of the natural nutrients, hence little to no nutritional value. My opinion- it’s better to get nutrients from whole foods!

I have compiled a list of breakfast basics that are wholesome and nutritious for breakfast. Try these:

Traditional Rolled oats:

Yes- the old fashioned ones. They are large, round and un-cut. Just from looking at different oat brands on the market, you can see rolled oats are a bit different. Rolled oats are pressed flat or rolled with heavy equipment to shorten their total cooking time. Steel cut oats appear rougher. They haven’t been rolled, but they have been chopped with steel blades. Instant oats are more refined (hence the loss of protein  and fibre, and the addition of flavourants, sweeteners etc.). In South Africa, you can find rolled oats only at a health shop as local retail stock steel cut or instant oats.

They contain soluble and insoluble fibre which keeps you fuller for longer. I cook on the stove top, with water and a tad bit of organic milk (almond or coconut milk), stir in some MCT oil, sometimes raw cacao powder, teaspoon of cinnamon, some raw nuts and about half a cup of diced fruit. This is also a great opportunity to stir in some 100% whey protein powder or hemp seed powder to keep you fuller for longer.

Not all are created equal- Eggs:

As long as they are free range or organic, they will be amazing! An organic egg get’s the label if the chicken was only fed heart eggorganic food (animal or grain), which means it was not fed grains (mostly Genetically Modified corn) laced with pesticides. The 90’s idea that eggs are unhealthy and promote heart disease is a outdated myth. Fats from animal sources contain cholesterol, but it is not completely harmful.

They are an excellent source of healthy fat and protein, and contain some essential amino acids (tryptophan and tyrosine) that are greatly beneficial to the body. The best way to eat them is either poached, sunny side up or soft-boiled. Scrambling your eggs oxidises the cholesterol in the egg yolk, which may in fact harm your health. Try support local and organic egg farmers, but if you absolutely must purchase your eggs from a commercial grocery store,go for the free-range organic.

Pair your eggies with a complex carbohydrate, such as rye toast with butter, or rye crispbread. Veggies are always another great substitute for rye bread. I would recommend two eggs per serving.

Slurping goodness- Smoothies:

My favourite for an on-the-go/ lazy-easy breakfast! There are some who would say this is unhealthy, due to all the sugar from fruit. This I agree with. That’s why, it is so important to understand and follow the simple rules for smoothie slurping:smoothie

1) Always combine one veggie, two fruit, fresh ginger root and a green (such as a spinach leaves, kale leaves, broccoli, cucumber, celery etc.).

2) Always add a scoop of healthy protein powder (Organic whey/ hemp protein/ yellow or green pea powder, Chia seeds)

3) To get the real health benefit, don’t add sugar, sorbet, ice- cream or honey. It’s not dessert, okay!

An example of a healthy smoothie: 1 medium sized beetroot, 1 small green apple, 3 tblsp frozen or fresh blueberries, 2cm peeled ginger root, 1 cup baby spinach leaves. It’s also nice to add 4 tblsp of full cream, organic plain yoghurt, or 100 ml Coconut milk/ almond milk or rice milk for a creamy texture. Use water to change consistency.

Healthy Fats to add to your breakfast:

Fats are an essential part of our diet. We have recently discovered the differences between a healthy and an unhealthy fat. Healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, keep you satiated, and most importantly- helps you stay on top of your mental game early in the morning. Fats keep you fuller for longer and stabilise blood sugar levels better than carbohydrates.

Here is a brief list of healthy fats to add to your breakfast:

– Half a medium sized avocado,

– Three tablespoons of full cream cottage cheese (Unflavoured),

– Half a cup of full cream natural yoghurt,

– A handful of raw (unroasted, unsalted) almonds/ macadamia/ cashews/ sunflower seeds/ pumpkin seeds/ sesame seeds/ linseeds,

– A tablespoon of butter or ghee (clarified butter) on your toast or to fry your egg in,

– A tablespoon of nut butter. I like eating this plain or you could have it on a slice of toast.

Idea’s for a healthy, nourishing vegetarian breakfast:

1) Half a cup of natural, greek yoghurt with two tablespoons of vegan cacao protein powder, a handful of mixed raw nuts, kiwi fruit

2) Two soft boiled eggs, one slice of rye toast with fresh tomato and a twist of black pepper.

3) Half a cup of rolled oats, made with water, full cream milk and three tablespoons of vegan cacau protein powder, three tablespoons of desiccated coconut.

4) Two slices of rye toast with cottage cheese, black pepper and chives, and a small fruit (peach, plum, apple etc).

5) Green smoothie (spinach leaves, green apple, ginger root, half a cup of natural greek yoghurt, pinch of cinnamon, water).

6) Half a cup of rolled oats, made with water, full cream milk, sliced banana, and stir in two tablespoons of almond nut butter.

Happy Breakfast to you!

How junk food and sugar affects weight gain

It is now a well known fact (though there are many in denial about this) that junk foods and sugar are the most addictive ‘foods’ in our society today.

 Here are some ways to check if you or someone you know is addicted:

  • You accumulate fat around the abdominal area, and battle to get rid of it,
  • You crave sugar, refined carbohydrates (white flour based foods) and junk food,
  • You can’t control when and what you eat,
  • You feel irritable and annoyed when you don’t have a quick fix of sugar in close range,
  • You hide your addiction, and eat when no one is around.

Identify with any of those? I know I used to. The sugar craving is a vicious circle.You feel compelled to eat junk and sweets on a regular basis. The problem with these foods is the impact it has on our insulin level- as well the long term consequences to that.

Interestingly- research shows that there is a huge challenge in overcoming refined carbohydrate consumption. Apparently humans want to eat these foods and seem unable to stop based on the growing obesity epidemic. This has been proven in many studies whereby we have developed an overwhelming desire to consume unhealthy food, no matter how hard our intellect tries to avoid it.  It is now known that the limbic reward/pleasure system is activated by refined carbohydrates. So basically, we consume comfort foods for their hedonic purposes, because it has a drug like effect on our body, similar to recreational drugs.  It is the most exhilarating feeling for all our cells- which leads to the addiction.

The weight gain/ science part to it all:

Insulin Resistance

Everything we eat is able to be used to create glucose in our bodies. Carbohydrates, by definition, are sugars, and all sugars are easily converted to glucose. The amino acids that make up proteins can be converted to glucose via an enzymatic process called gluconeogenesis. Fats can also be converted to glucose-  glycerol. So, no matter where it comes from, the glucose from our meals then ends up in our blood to travel around our bodies to the tissues that need it.

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. It is released into the blood whenever blood levels of glucose become elevated (eg. after you have eaten a meal). Insulin unlocks the door of the cell for glucose to be used by the body cells to produce energy.  When the cells can’t open in response to glucose, the glucose remains in the bloodstream, causing high blood glucose levels, despite insulin in the bloodstream.  The pancreas is actually working overtime to produce more insulin because the body’s cells are resistant to the effects of insulin. Without insulin, cells will literally starve to death due to no glucose.

Other conditions associated with Insulin resistance are:

  • Abdominal obesity
  • Fatty Liver syndrome
  • Diabetes Type 2
  • Acanthosis nigricans
  • Skin tags

 Weight gain or Obesity

It is common knowledge that excess glucose from refined carbohydrates is  converted into fat. One of the ways the body keeps this mechanism going is through shifting the gut flora. Before grains became refined , our gut flora was exposed only to lean meat, vegetables, fruit, tubers, nuts, and thereafter whole grains and legumes. When the gut is exposed to refined carbohydrates and excess processed fats, an inflammatory response begins. After the meal, there is an inflammatory response caused by the over absorption of food by the gut bacteria.  One of the types of gut bacteria has an outer covering called the endotoxin- this is what the body ‘inflames’ over, which may lead to insulin resistance. Another finding is that over time, this gut bacteria flourishes when exposed to continuous refined carbohydrate consumption, which means greater absorption of calories as well as an increased risk of insulin resistance and obesity.

Studies have shown that  obese individuals demonstrate increased activation of brain reward circuitries in response to junk food.  This means that in obese individuals, their brain gets more excited than the average person, when exposed to junk foods. Weight gain or obesity is inevitable unless the pleasure factor- food-seeking behaviour is somehow resisted.

One can’t disregard the obvious sedentary lifestyle many lead. Most South Africans are couch potatoes. A survey revealed in 2003, 62% of men and 48% of women 15 years or older  followed a sedentary lifestyle. This lifestyle has also been associated with breast cancer, colon cancer, osteoporosis, stress, anxiety, depression and ageing less healthily. In South Africa, nutritional surveys have also shown that urban dwellers  frequently consume a diet that is high in trans fats, refined carbohydrates and added sugar. However, people living in  rural areas tend to  follow a more traditional diet.

The following trends have often been found in the typical urban diet:

  • A low  intake of  fresh fruit and vegetables
  • A high intake of processed animal fat, eg. high trans fatty acids
  • Overall increases in the calorie  intake, which leads to obesity and weight gain
  • A high and increasing alcohol intake
  • A low fibre intake because of a low intake of fruit, vegetables and legumes

A diet make-over is really needed in our country. Education about food choices are vital in changing the weight gain epidemic .

I will be writing a new article soon about food choices  and how we can make small changes to better health.