Breaking the Fast

Posted on May 13, 2016
Written by Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD


The word breakfast literally comes from the Breaking of the Fast. Before we had electric lights everywhere, when the sun went to bed, so did we. There was no midnight snack because we were up before the dawn and sacked out through the night after a hard day in our agrarian lifestyle. The biggest meal was at lunch when we had the most light with which to cook it. The evening supper consisted of a simpler fare and was the last food eaten before a long slumber.  Generally, there was about 10 to 12 hours between the last meal and breakfast. However, in the 24-7 fast paced 2009, it is a different story.

Many people I counsel eat later and later. They eat dessert while watching TV after work. Many tell me they just aren’t hungry in the morning. Here are some interesting facts I read from Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist.

The time cruising between meals tends to shorten as the day continues. So, breakfast at 7:30 or 8am is followed by a 5 hour break until 12pm. Perhaps we drink some liquids during the morning hours. Then, we tend to want a snack in the afternoon, usually 3-4 hours later. Next, comes dinner at 2-3 hours after that. The day rounds out with a late night snack 1-2 hours after dinner. Do you get the idea of where extra calories can pack in and hunger may not be so prevalent?

Why is breakfast important? Well, a number of reasons. Let’s start with weight management. Shifting calories to the beginning and middle of your day and lightening up on the end of the day uses the most amount of calories during your busiest time. Unless you go for an evening constitutional stroll, most people are fairly sedentary with some electronic device in the twilight hours.

Also, many studies show that people who eat breakfast tend to eat less throughout the day. This is reiterated in the National Weight Control Registry. In this group, subjects lost at least 30 pounds and kept off the weight for at least 1 year. One of the most common factors of these successful folks was that they ate breakfast.[ii]

If you think about it, going without breakfast just doesn’t make sense, especially if you exercise in the morning. You have very little fuel in your body, you have your whole day ahead of you, and you are facing all the day’s challenges with nothing to keep you going. If you tax your body with a run or an hour of strength training, you are really depleting your energy stores. What does your body do when it has to work hard with no assurance of steady fuel? It goes into reserve mode. Your body feels it has to hang on to every calorie that comes in. Your metabolism slows down to cling to those calories you do eat. A increased weight disaster in the making.

Other facts about breakfast eaters is that they have better concentration, improved brain function for morning tasks and better hand-eye coordination. It also keeps you from being grumpy or irritable. My first job was a deli-bakery counter next to a metropolitan train station. People got their first coffee and donut from me. There were a lot of nasty folks grabbing coffee that were as nice as you please when they came for lunch.

I know there are those of you, who are like me and not hungry first thing in the morning. Not a problem. I have water before my run and I eat right afterward. My body is used to this routine. If I am going to do a long workout- more than 60 minutes- I have something very small, such as a dab of nut butter on a cracker or apple slice before the workout or have it ready during the workout.

Okay, so now you will think about breakfast. But, what is the best breakfast? Purdue University researcher Wayne Campbell, PhD, was quoted on WebMD, as saying that protein blunts your hunger the most and is the most satisfying. Also, fiber has been shown to extend satiety. Satiety means feeling satiated or not hungry. Unfortunately, lean protein at breakfast isn’t a part of trendy marketing.

According to Nutrition Health Letter – Dessert for breakfast is the new trend, and it hasn’t left out any of the population, even vegans. We may think we are eating healthier, but we are still subject to the issues of folks on the go. Cereal and cereal bars can be nutritionally as different as a fruit bar and a martini bar. Cereals such as shredded wheat, rye flakes, quinoa or other low sugar, high fiber products are great for breakfast. Add a couple of ounces of soy milk and you have a low calorie, high protein breakfast that is satisfying for the whole morning.

On the other hand, toaster pastries and breakfast bars can have a protein content that is lean to almost none. The fiber content is also may not be substantial. The sugars in many of them rival their more conventional and mass marketed counterparts. Whereas, vegan breakfast foods such as pancakes and waffles tend to have less fat due to the shunning of eggs and butter, a plate full of tofu scramble can have a high fat and calorie content especially when you throw the soy cheese on top.

We all love to have a bagel every once in a while. For those of you who looked at that last sentence and were aghast at the words “once in a while”, realize that bagels are 4-5 servings of bread. So eating even half of one packs some calories. If you decide to put anything on top, you could move right into calorie overload. Also, most people add nut butters, vegan cream cheese, and some jam. Not bad for a weekend brunch, but a disaster when eaten as a daily fare.

Some experts go into explaining the need for carbohydrates at breakfast, but as vegans every food you will eat will have carbohydrates, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with this unless you are a competitive athlete. Again, we are looking for good fiber with lean protein. What are some good lean vegan proteins?

Beans and grains are great sources. Beans pack the biggest wallop, and should become part of your breakfast line up. Here are additional suggestions:

  • Cereal with soy milk and fruit
  • Breakfast bean burrito with corn or whole wheat tortilla
  • Nut butter on high fiber toast
  • Tofu Scramble with lots of your favorite veggies and topped with salsa