Saturday, April 14, 2012

Survival of the Fittest: The Evolution of Breakfast

Breakfast was, hands down, the hardest meal to clean up. In fact, when I was first starting to experiment with the Paleo diet, my Kashi Autumn Wheat with milk and a big glass of orange juice was the last holdout. I refused to even try a 30-day strict paleo diet until I saw a blog post on paleo breakfast cereal. I was excited -- I could have this with almond milk in the morning! That was the moment I committed to try Paleo for real.

Well, that little honeymoon was short-lived. Not only was this paleo cereal nasty, it gave me a stomach ache (probably all the monounsaturated fat from the huge amount of seeds). It was expensive. And it was extremely time consuming. I spent hours in the kitchen on Sundays, creating this wanna-be granola, baking sweet potatoes, boiling beets, and cooking a huge dinner meal, all for the week ahead. It was not a feasible routine for the long run.

Plus, as I was continuing to learn more about the do's and don'ts of Paleo, I learned that seeds should be used more as just a condiment due to their high Omega-6 fat content. Instead, I needed to focus on protein and carbs from fruits and vegetable sources in the morning.

I moved on to breakfast scrambles, with 3 or 4 eggs, spinach, mushrooms, and bell peppers, all sauteed in coconut oil. This worked well for me. I felt better than I did with the seed cereal, but I continued to have grain withdrawal, feeling light-headed on my bike commute to work. A further problem was this breakfast took some time to make. I am not a fan of waking up any earlier than I need to. As I was trying to sleep longer per the recommendations by the Paleo gurus, this issue had even more weight.

I advanced to hard-boiled eggs, over greens (usually raw spinach), with bell peppers and some nuts (pecans or walnuts) tossed with olive oil. This really worked for me in terms of time. I had discovered a nutrient-dense breakfast that could be put together in about 5 minutes. One way I reduced the prep time even further was in the way I boiled the eggs. My grandmother always told me to leave the eggs in the pot with the hot water after boiling, because it eliminates the brown "skin" around the yolk. However, these eggs were often difficult to peel using this method -- frustrating in the morning when you're running late. I did some research and found that if you run cold water over the eggs immediately after boiling, the shells are much less likely to stick. It works great.

While this breakfast worked well, I still felt a bit sapped of energy, even when I had fruit on the side. I also felt hungry only a couple hours after eating, even with three or four hard boiled eggs and several handfuls of spinach. So when my strict paleo month ended, I brought back some carbs from forbidden sources. I've referenced this blog post, and the comment section, as a real guide for me and I continue to benefit from it.

I didn't want to go back to wheat-based cereals, if for no other reason than Tony Horton doesn't recommend gluten. I was a big p90x follower before starting CrossFit, and I still consider Tony my guru. Really, CrossFit is the next logical step in muscle confusion for p90x'ers looking for more intensity and more community / camaraderie. I have a guilty conscience trying this whole Paleo thing, since Tony is a "flexitarian." (Mostly vegetarian, with occasional free-range chicken and fish). Between abandoning his workout for Crossfit and his diet for Paleo, a p90x prodigal son has really gone astray from Tony's teachings. However, when his diet advice and Paleo overlap, you can bet I follow it.

This is the case with gluten. I don't have a gluten intolerance, but I think my body runs better when I avoid it. So instead of wheat cereal, I started doing oatmeal. Now, oats have plenty of dietary lectins that are similar to gluten; they seem to fall somewhere on the "bad" end of the grain spectrum, where wheat is the worst and rice is the best. But I keep oatmeal to just one serving, along with my eggs and greens. And I usually do steel cut oats, which are less processed and have a better glycemic load compared to quick oats or rolled oats. To change things up, I have rolled oats every so often.

The oats, combined with the eggs and greens, keep me full for several hours; longer than if I were to eat the same amount of calories from just oats or just eggs. Oatmeal also gives me a stable energy source for my bike commute to work. Importantly, oatmeal helps boost my carb intake, which is hard to keep up from just fruits and veggies.

So yummy

Recently, I cut out oats for a week, increasing the eggs and amount of spinach to make up the difference. I was interested in seeing if my body had now adapted enough to use fat as an energy source instead of carbs. Well, the first day I tried this, the light-headed feeling returned immediately, I had a rough headache, and I felt hungry soon after eating. A few hours later, I raided the girl scout cookies in my office cabinet. Half a sleeve of Samoas is a good indicator that my body is going to get its carbs, try as I might. The headache / light-headed feeling continued for the rest of the week, except on days when my girlfriend juiced fresh carrots, cucumbers, and oranges for me. Fresh juice is full of nutrients and enzymes and is infinitely healthier than packaged, pasteurized crap juice -- yes, even the Naked brand. I would love to have fresh juice every day, but that damn Jack LaLanne is hard to clean.

As I've said in other posts, I'm happy to cheat routinely if my body responds well.

I will note that oats cause my weight to fluctuate a surprising amount for only being 150 calories. I'm fairly sure this is water weight, since starchy carbs / grains cause more water retention. Without oats, I have more muscle tone but also look skinnier. I'm going to try and figure out how to increase my mass while still maintaining a lean, "cut up" look.

So now, I have a bowl of oatmeal and a bowl of hard boiled eggs in the morning. I can make this delicious, nutrient-dense breakfast in the time it takes for one "snooze" (just ten minutes). Here's how:
-Take advantage of an incredible shortcut with your steel cut oats! It's a secret shortcut, found only on the McCann's tin. The night before, boil one cup of water, add a quarter cup of oats and boil for one minute. Stir and place the pot in fridge over night. (This takes literally 2 minutes. Don't count this towards the ten minutes the next morning, thanks). This will shave 30 minutes off the cook time.
-Roll out of bed, stretch, and put the pot of oatmeal over medium high heat.
-Shell two hard boiled eggs.
-By now, the oatmeal should be simmering. Stir and reduce heat to medium low.
-Quarter each egg, and place over a bowl full of spinach and chopped bell peppers. (I like to chop a couple whole bell peppers on Sundays so I have them for the rest of the week). Stir the oatmeal again.
-Toss the eggs and greens with olive oil and salt and pepper. Sprinkle some walnuts or pecans on top.
-The oatmeal should be pretty much done. You'll know because it will have absorbed most of the water and will be bubbling. Add in a teaspoon or two of Earth Balance coconut butter, one teaspoon of vanilla and / or hazelnut extract, a generous dash of cinnamon, and a tablespoon of flaxseeds. Put in a bowl and add a splash of almond milk. Optional: sprinkle some shredded coconut, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and / or strawberries on top.
-Eat up! Wasn't that worth exercising some will power with the snooze button?

I truly enjoy this delicious morning ritual now. I'm going to miss it when I start my experiment with Intermittent Fasting. I'm turning my body into a lab rat to give you the insights you deserve. Readers: get ready for an enlightening post all about my experience. People who I interact with on a daily basis: prepare for a testy, moody, desperate little man.

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