Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is the meal that potentially breaks the night fast which can be as few as 3-4 hours in some and 8-10 hours in others. If the body has been in a fasting state for more than 2 hours its fuel sources begin to shift gears. If the fast goes on too long the sources of fuel to keep the engines running become precious muscle tissue. We all want to keep our hard earned muscle on our bones and stay lean, fit and appear like racehorses. This however takes mindful attention to detail. If the morning meal starts with the typical SAD (Standard American Diet- Eggs, cereal/toast and orange juice) all of our hard work gets flushed down the tubes. Learning to start your day off with the appropriate fuel source can make the cutting edge difference in alertness and physical performance. Switch the typical cereal and toast to eggs, turkey, a protein shake or other protein sources.
How Sugar Affects Your Metabolism
When we eat carbohydrates, we put the carbs into our gastrointestinal system and absorb it into the blood and the sugar does us no good in the blood stream. In order to burn the sugar as fuel we need to get it into our cells – this is very much like putting gasoline into your car, it does not push the car until you get it into the cylinder so you have a fuel injector to move the gas from the tank into the cylinder which then allows the car to go. Insulin is our fuel injector, it moves fuel from the blood into the cell where we actually combust it by sending it down a chain of reactions and then make energy from it.
How Insulin Affects a Cell
All cells have receptor sites that proteins, hormones, and other molecules such as drugs can hook on to affect the cell. Think of cell with a blood vessel going by. That blood vessel has blood and sugar in it in the form of glucose. After a high glycemic meal there is a lot of Insulin floating around to take care of the heavy blood sugar load. What insulin does is that it attaches to the receptor site and starts affecting the cell. The first thing it does is it opens up the channel to bring glucose (Blood Sugar) into the cell. After glucose enters the cell it is taken down a chain of reactions that eventually extract useful energy from the glucose molecule to use as fuel, this is how we get energy to burn. If this is a kidney cell it uses that energy to do kidney things, liver cell- liver things, a muscle cell it uses it to contract for lifting and moving objects. If it is a fat cell it does not burn the sugar, it converts it to fat and that is its job, the fat cell is an energy reserve. Fat takes the energy from sugar or glucose and converts it to fat and it stores it for a rainy day. The fat cell packs the energy stores tight and makes room for more.
In between meals when sugar is low we are supposed to move that energy store back into the blood to use that energy for use as fuel during energy famished times. If the engines of metabolism work correctly the body can turn that fat into a little tiny molecule called a free fatty acid to be released into the blood to be used as fuel and restore the energy to the other cells. The other cells can then pick up and burn for energy just like they would burn sugar. Different metabolic pathway but fuel nonetheless.
The other effect that insulin has on our cells is to block the process of turning fat into free fatty acids. Insulin prevents us from accessing our fat stores to utilize our body fat as energy. Why would we have a hormone that would not allow that very important process? Insulin is in balance with other hormones that promote fat burning and promote fat breakdown. Glucagon and growth hormone and other hormones like testosterone that promote fat burning. The problem with this is that if insulin is still high between meals, you do not promote any fat burning, and if you are a typical red blooded American you eat more food than you should and the glycemic index of the food you eat is very high – making the problem worse.
The High Glycemic Breakfast
If we graphed blood glucose and insulin levels versus time of day and our meal plans it would give us some very interesting information. Now let’s say its time for breakfast and we are going to have a banana and a cup of sweetened blue berry yogurt and a glass of orange juice. This is the typical American meal that is considered to be healthy but is very high glycemic. The result of those high glycemic sugar foods takes our blood glucose levels way up and forces the pancreas to make a whole bunch of insulin to manage the sugar that is coming in to the blood. Insulin’s job is to keep blood sugar under control. Now we have high blood sugars and high insulin. All of the blood sugar that was in the blood is now taken up into the cells and the blood glucose level plummets because the pancreas has secreted so much insulin. The pancreas can take a temporary break because the blood sugar is down and things are stable but since blood sugar is now at an all time low it stimulates one to eat. This is called the “Blood Sugar Blues” or “The Viscous Cookie Cycle”.
At this point in time we have low normal sugar and high insulin. The problem with that is at the time where we have very little blood sugar in the blood stream insulin is still around in high quantities because it goes away very slowly and is still attached to our fat cells. So, we can’t break down any fat and we can’t release any energy into the blood.
You can see how your day is unfolding. You get these big swings in sugar and insulin never quite comes down, so you are constantly hungry from low sugar and high insulin and you are forced to eat again or are tempted to eat again. Now there are several problems with this, you have several swings in energy that can really wreck your day, loss of productivity because you have to stop and eat something, or mid afternoon you have to put your head down on the desk because you are so sleepy from the “Blood Sugar Blues” and system overload. Worse than that when your blood sugar goes above the line you are glycating (making age glycosylated end products-AGE) and aging at a much faster rate. Glycation attaches sugar to protein and this causes inflammation, cellular damage and disease. You are promoting degenerative disease very fast. Your insulin levels that never come down are also promoting inflammation and oxidative stress and degenerative disease. Remember high insulin levels are related to degenerative disease and central obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, asvd which is hardening of the arteries and possibly a number of other diseases.
Good Breakfast = A Better Day
What we really want to do is eat in a way that we keep our blood sugar and insulin very low. Lets change the day and have a four egg omlet with veggies and olive oil. What happens is instead of your blood sugar spiking high it barely rises and your pancreas does not have to overproduce insulin. The relatively low level of insulin causes just some of the cells to open their channels to take sugar out of the blood. There is a gradual influx of sugar out of the blood and into the cell. This parallels the rate of insulin rise. This allows insulin to drop and catch up to the blood sugar elevations between meals, by keeping insulin levels low we don’t have insulin at the receptor on the fat cell and we can then release fatty acids into the blood for use as energy and fuel in-between our meals. We are free to break down fat into free fatty acids and deliver those fatty acids into the blood. We have more energy and we don’t think about snacking and therefore get more work done.
A little later we eat lunch with chicken and salad, insulin does not go screaming up and blood sugar and insulin stay constant. A small amount of insulin allows the blood sugar to drop slowly and they come down slowly and together. There is no insulin at the fat cell and we are able to release fatty acids as fuel. Now our kidney liver and muscle cells have plenty of extra energy to function. Once again we are not tired or hungry and we have a productive afternoon and we go home that evening and have dinner with a nice piece of salmon and a couple pieces of broccoli and we do this all over again. In the evening with no insulin around we are not hungry and we don’t snack. We go to bed with low sugar and low insulin and this allows us to burn fat as fuel during the night. We wake up in the morning and your pants fit a little better, you feel better and you make another omlet or use another protein source and start all over and do it again.
More importantly than loosing weight the wonderful thing is that with your sugar and insulin levels so low you are glycating very slowly. The inflammation levels go down in your body. You are not being riddled with the degenerative diseases that are caused by oxidation and glycation and you may live with quality for ten or fifteen years longer. We are not just expanding the last years of life so you can make it in a nursing home another five years, we are extending your productive any healthy years because we are preventing disease.
There are multiple studies available to read on the importance of a proper breakfast. Start your day with Solid protein and an adequate load of low glycemic carbohydrates.