Sustainable Health Nutshell: Eat a simple easy-to-digest breakfast that's easy on your digestive system and the planet. Try stewed apples or well-cooked grains, and use sweet pungent spices like cardamom, clove, and cinnamon to help wake up your body!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day- but not for the reasons that probably come to mind first. It helps to think of our digestive system as a big kitchen- everything we eat has to be 'cooked' to be processed and used to nourish our bodies. Now, we also have what I refer to as "kitchen staff." This means: the muscles of your stomach and intestines, the cells along your villi and immune system cells that check everything you take in (and decide whether to absorb it, to attack/destroy it, or to just let it go out), the gall bladder/ liver/ pancreas/ stomach cells that secrete enzymes and acids to break down food into smaller smushier pieces, the crazy number of bacteria that help us get the most out of our food, and the nervous system that sends signals to the entire tract about what to do next... the list goes on.
Most of us have stressed-out kitchen staff, though some of us have great reserve and can handle poor habits for a long time. We ask our digestive and elimination systems to put up with toxic food, eating at odd ours and while doing other things, difficult-to-process food, drugs and supplements of all kinds, and sleep schedules that don't allow enough time for clean up! Imagine if your boss didn't allow you to sleep, have regular healthy meals, clean your work area well, and also didn't allow you to shower, while asking you to do several jobs at once before you'd finished the last? After very little time you'd likely be compelled to quit!
The thing is, 'quitting' for our bodies would mean the end of the line for us. Luckily, before that happens, we get signals that tell us the "kitchen staff" are in trouble: stomach pains, heartburn, bloating, elimination problems, fatigue after eating or tiredness in general, weight change, cravings, more frequent infections, or allergies. Poor, stressed digestion leads to poor nutrition absorption as well as toxin buildup, and if the habits leading to those symptoms go unchanged, they can lead to more serious health problems. One of the most stressful things for your digestion is not allowing it to rest and regroup for the next day. I've talked about sleep here before, but did you know, there are actually lots of studies published that show if you mess with circadian rhythms (night shift work, anyone?), people are more likely to gain weight, develop diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. I know, right? Yipe. Here are a few science-y links aboutwhat too little sleep does to your body.
Enough scariness - what can we do? Well, first, sleep enough (10pm-5:30am is the best sleep). Then, wake up your digestion gently. Why? Think of your "staff" again: Imagine first thing in the morning, having a bucket of cold water thrown on your face (a glass of cold water or juice), being asked to heat and grind up nuts and twigs in cold wet goop (dry or thick cereal in cold milk or yogurt), or having the entire day's work given to you as soon as your eyes are open (high calorie, high fat and high protein breakfasts). Many times we eat too much the night before and go to bed late, and your previous meal may not even be digested yet! Another tidbit- if you have abdominal symptoms after lunch, it's more likely to be from the breakfast you had since it takes 3-4 hours for food to clear out of your stomach and get to your sensitive small intestine, so see if changing what you eat in the morning helps your afternoon symptoms! Here are some simple things to try when deciding what kind of breakfast is right for you.
Ask yourself first- are you hungry when you wake up? If not, don't eat yet.Imagine! Some people (Kapha constitution people usually) actually don't need much at all before lunch- which should be your largest meal. Have some warm water and move around a bit (it's the best time to meditate and do some light exercise). Then see how you feel- listen to your body!
If you are actually hungry, try this super simple recipe for a stewed apple: an apple or pear cored, peeled, and chopped. 2 cloves. a sprinkle of cardamom (or cinnamon). a splash of water. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft and the water is mostly gone. Eat slowly, sitting down, and calm! If you have slow elimination (tend towards constipation), try adding 4-5 cut up prunes to the apple or pear and a tiny bit more water to soften them. If you're a little more hungry, you can add a spoon of almond butter on top, or after your warm fruit, eat a more traditional breakfast- a great option is some hot thin (meaning a larger proportion of water or cooked organic milk than you may be used to) cereal (oatmeal, quinoa, rice, cream of wheat etc) with currents or raisins and spices.
Try changing your breakfast for 7-10 days and see how you feel. Pay attention to whether you're actually hungry or if you eat out of habit. As always, warm liquids and food are easier to process, spices help your body digest well, and caffeine borrows energy from the future and can stress out your kitchen staff more, so go easy! A simple, warm, locally-sourced breakfast, without so much meat protein is better for your body and the planet. It's an easy delicious way to help you get the most out of your food and make your footprint a little lighter in more ways than one!