I’m not sure what the time or place was that berthed the maxim, Breakfast is the most important meal, but they were obviously more attuned with human biology than our own. In Chinese Medicine’s circadian clock, 7am-9am is considered the “time of the stomach.” The prior, 5-7am, corresponds to the large intestine, which makes it the ideal and most common time for bowel movements; before that, 3-5am, to the lungs, which is why many people with chronic or acute coughs are disrupted by them in the middle of the night.
While this may all sound like esoteric medical theory, it aligns perfectly with modern biomedical understanding: The reason 7-9am is the time of the stomach is because it is when metabolism is strongest—when our bodies are most sensitive to the insulin hormone, whose job it is to break down glucose from food and transform it into nutrients.
We say “stomach qi.” They say insulin secretion. Same thing. Of course, when people lack a morning appetite or experience a weaker metabolism in the morning we consider this to be pathological, diagnostically informative. Since for most of us 8am is at least 12 hours since our last meal this should not sound far-fetched. Chinese Medicine believes when we do not adequately exercise our microbiome in the morning we weaken it—a similar use it or lose it view as to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are ultimately nourished by the gut as well.
Intermittent fasting can have many health benefits when done responsibly, but if one intends to do it intelligently, without potentially robbing Peter to pay Paul in the long term, you would skip or have an early dinner, instead of neglecting science by skipping breakfast. I understand the potential social repercussions of this, for which I recommend compromise: Have dinner or later dinners on social nights, while on quiet nights, if it works for you keep to your fasting window.
For those who claim to not have time for breakfast, I am skeptical. As most of you know, for the past year I’ve been still running my own practice while co-parenting a 14-month old. Recently, as she has rapidly grown in physical mobility and emotional attachment, I’ve been forced to cook with one hand and arm in the morning. I’ve learned to crack and cook eggs all with one (messy) hand, and inadvertently multi-tasked into giving my left bicep a tremendous daily workout. Even on my earlier days in the office we never skip breakfast.
One of my favorite and easiest recipes are as shown above, eggs over easy with ANY roasted vegetables. As long as you can find the five minutes to wash and chop the veggies, you can then throw them on the pan, add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and flaxseed, and cook for 20 minutes, during which time you can get ready for the day (or sit cross-legged on the floor and read children’s books). When they are a few minutes from ready return to the kitchen for your one-minute, one-handed eggs. Once plated I like to add a good quality olive-oil atop the vegetables, a) to give them moisture, b) for olive oil’s health benefits. Viola! Breakfast!
In Chinese Medicine eggs are considered one of the healthiest foods in the world. They even appear in a couple of our herbal formulas that are designed to clear pathological heat from the body by nourishing our healthy fluids and blood. Between my wife, daughter, and I, we consume 3 dozen/week, and I can’t imagine where we’d be if we didn’t. Bon Appetit!
There is no school of medicine or nutritional paradigm that does not consider breakfast to be “the most important meal of the day.” The reason for this is of course, science: the fact that morning is when our metabolism is strongest and we are most sensitive to our body’s insulin, whose job it is to break down glucose.
Nevertheless, cultural conditionings invariably conflict with scientific evidence, and breakfast remains generally the most neglected. People either don’t eat it at all, cite coffee as “breakfast,” or turn in C- work in the form of the unhealthy toast or bagel, otherwise “healthy” smoothies and yogurt. From a Chinese medical perspective such breakfasts are mostly inadequate in protein or healthy fat, and worse, they’re cold and sweet. As my mentor, Suzanne Robidoux always says: “A smoothie is not a meal.”
Once in a while, such indulgences are okay. But if taken regularly over time the microbiome becomes colder and weaker, and/or encumbered with gluten and sugars. Once this happens it becomes more difficult to digest heartier foods, so when we try introducing them we feel bloated. Instead of nutrients, our food turns to inflammation, our guts get weaker, and so on. This is the vicious cycle that leads people to have little to no appetite in the morning… which is the metabolic equivalent to not feeling tired at night, or not having a libido during the summer. It is an imbalance (of the liver or gallbladder meridians) that must be corrected.
One way to do so is to fake it until you make it. Eat warmer, higher calorie foods for breakfast, but begin with smaller portions, “smaller dosages,” to allow the body to acclimate. In Chinese medicine there are few foods more revered than (organic) eggs. I have no reservation in advising that it is impossible to eat too many eggs—especially of good quality. Start with one egg, ideally cooked a bit runny and over easy, but any way is beneficial (the yolk is thought to nourish our yin and blood, and is used in certain herbal formulas). You may cook with organic butter, avocado or olive oil, and/or dressed with olive oil at the end. Alternately, one can start with roasted vegetables…
“What??? Roasted vegetables for breakfast???” remarks all every American I know.
Yes. I realize this seems very odd in our country, but keep in mind that our country also leads the first world in cancer, autoimmune, and heart disease. Anyone not willing to step outside of the box of our cultural norms, in my opinion, puts themselves at great risk.
Roasting vegetables in the morning is SO EASY. In the winter I’ll throw a bunch of sweet potatoes (another Chinese herbal superfood) or brussels sprouts in the oven—in summer I’ll err more towards asparagus, if not sauteed leafy greens on the stove. Not only is this fast and simple, but also easy to digest, and checks off much of our daily vegetables requirement. My wife and I eat this with eggs literally every single morning, which in my opinion has undoubtedly nourished for our microbiomes a virtuous cycle of having strong morning appetites and putting them to good use by churning through substantial fatty protein. Or in Chinese medical terms, “the qi is strong” with which to start the day.
We’ll never know the diseases we avoid through good habits. We’ll only know those we endure, and quite often we’re left unsure of what caused them. The conditionings of fast-paced capitalism are obviously what has led us to neglect this spectacular source of strength in the day’s first meal. I highly recommend working towards reversing it. As always, acupuncture and herbal medicine can encourage things in the right direction.
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