To eat, or not to eat?

This is an old essay that I wrote in the March of 2012. I have about 4~5 essays like these, and they will probably come up once in a while. Stay Tuned!

Various cultures have various eating styles, and that includes whether breakfast is treated as important or not. In some countries, such as Korea, breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day. A famous saying (although it originates from Germany but it is still used widely) explains out view about breakfast; ‘One should eat their breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a peasant.’ However, this is not true for every country in the world. For example, in the US it is common to skip breakfast, or have a very brief one if at all. In Italy, the most common breakfast customs consists only of coffee and a croissant. Seeing that various cultures have different perceptions regarding breakfast, which is the wise way?

I do not live in the US, nor have I ever stayed there, but I am aware what myths circulate there through a bit of research. One popular belief is that breakfast is unhealthy – that it will make you fat, that it is not an important meal of the day, and, under the hypothesis that you are a student, that it will detract from your performance at school hearsay. There are a lot of myths about the unhelpful aspects of breakfast, most of which merely remain myths. Of course, in the American view of breakfast, this may just be true, for the typical breakfast menu consists of ‘snacks’ and foods that don’t satisfy all the nutritious requirements appropriately.

Scientifically, there might be a reason why a lot of people tend to skip breakfast and overlook its needs. During the Paleolithic era, when most of our basic instincts and reflex reactions were developed, food mainly consisted of hunted game and gathered crops – in other words, food wasn’t readily available all the time; only after the people had gone through all the trouble of finding, hunting, cooking, and serving it. Breakfast would have been the leftovers from the previous night’s meal, if they were lucky enough to have any – and that was rare, considering that game didn’t just come to the people’s doorsteps asking to be hunted.

So breakfast most likely would have been an invention of the Neolithic era, where animals were domesticated and crops were harvested, thus creating a storage of surplus food available when we needed an energy boost for the day’s work. Another point is that farming takes up much more energy than just hunting and gathering, therefore requiring breakfast to boost the energy level of the exhausted farmers before they would go out for another day of hard labor. Evidence that supports this theory includes the common breakfast menu – whether it is rice and soup in the Far East end of the world, or eggs and bacon like in the western – which mostly consists of domesticated food.

So by scientific evidence, the human instinct is not that accustomed to having a meal in the morning, and those who live in the cultures that value dinner greatly, the ones who eats breakfast every day, are probably just doing it out of habit, for we won’t be that hungry after that dinner and using almost no energy at all for 6~8 hours. Therefore the breakfast myths of the typical American person are probably true, more so when we consider the menu. Most of them are high-protein, low-carb foods that don’t contribute much to the energy. Not to even mention that the extra calories need oxygen to combust, thus leading blood flow to the stomach and away from the brain, creating drowsiness.

From the evidence so far, breakfast isn’t even remotely healthy and not necessary, the myths are probably true, and yet why is breakfast still so recommended everywhere? I think that the answer is that the whole eating regimen is in need of evaluation in such cases. We use a lot of energy these days. The brainwork probably couldn’t even compare to the hardships of farming for their own foods, but hard work of any kind, either mental or physical, is known to burn a lot of calories. We are perfectly okay to eat breakfast because we work as hard as the people did in the Neolithic era. Not to mention that this concerned only the western world, where the meals differ greatly in size. Most Asian countries have meals that don’t differ in size so much – breakfast is just as healthy as lunch and dinner when served properly, not like the snacks and desserts served in the west. A shocking fact reveals that whole wheat bread has about the same amount of glycemic index (GI) as the popular sweet skittles; meaning that it’s going to make you gain a lot of weight. Not healthy at all.

So what’s good about breakfast, then? (Under the condition that we eat three whole meals a day) Breakfast has a lot of benefits when eaten properly. According to studies, eating breakfast will help an adult woman’s diet become more successful, lowered the blood lead levels in children, decreases the chances of the person developing type 2 diabetes or heart failure, and is beneficial to teen mothers, both during and after pregnancy. It also may give you a relatively lengthy life span. Also, not eating breakfast can lead easily to higher blood cholesterol amounts, larger waist circumferences, and elevated insulin levels.

Still, breakfast isn’t all healthy. Remember, whole wheat bread has about the same GI as a bunch of candy! So it is also important that we choose healthy foods and live on a healthy diet. So rather than sugary cereal, bread, and domesticated meat like sausages or bacon, it is better to eat foods that are not too heavy in the stomach and have a low GI and high fiber and protein levels – oatmeal without sugar or egg whites are great examples. Such foods will make you healthy, smart and focused throughout the day.

Also, there are reasons that simple carbohydrates aren’t the best choice as a breakfast meal. Bread, cereal, pastry or doughnuts are such carbohydrates. It is because simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down into glucose molecules, which provide the general energy firsthand. Simple carbs are broken down more quickly, and a lot of glucose appears in a short time. And the thing about glucose molecules is that they run out fast – so if you eat simple carbs and sweet rolls for breakfast, you will most likely be hungry again by mid-morning. That is why high-protein foods are very much recommended as well. Proteins are eventually converted into carbohydrates when there is no space left in the liver for glycogen storage, but they are broken down more slowly and take a detour in the metabolic pathway. It keeps us burning for a long time, and it makes us last.

Overall, breakfast has many aspects. And if you’re one of those people who eat a giant dinner at 8:30, it’s probably better to skip breakfast than shoving unhealthy desserts into your stomach when you’re not even hungry. It will provide enough energy for the day and you’ll live. But to live a truly healthy diet? Eat a light dinner that is finished before 7:00 and eat breakfast daily as well. But always remember to keep the menu low-GI’ed and high on proteins so that it won’t do any wrongs to your health. You’ll live, your health will be maintained, and you’ll be happy throughout the day.

Thoughts? :)

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