What’s on the menu at the top of every day can make or break the morning’s activities for adults and children alike. We know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but science recently has stretched that tenet to prove those first bites at daybreak affect our energy, mood and ability to function at peak capacity right through to bedtime.
Recent research on the glycemic index (which lists foods from high to low in their ability to boost blood sugar levels) indicates slow-digesting protein and whole-grain breakfast foods provide energy and food satisfaction that can last into the evening. This is very good news, because it means a well-planned breakfast can curb endless munching later in the day; keep irritability in check; and best of all, promote fat breakdown instead of its storage.
According to this new information, top-of-the-morning meals of whole grains, fruit or vegetables, cheese, yogurt, chicken and/or fish are the very best healthy breakfast combinations. But you don’t need to completely give up your old favorites—most traditional breakfast foods can be tweaked and teamed with lower-glycemic ingredients to create delicious dishes packed with enough fuel to power you through even the most challenging day.
Fresh potager (kitchen garden) herbs are key to revamping outdated breakfast foods.
Rosemary, parsley, tarragon, thyme, sage, dill, mint, lemon balm, oregano, basil, marjoram and savory give whole grains and other breakfast foods a flavor spike. What’s more, herbs do not even appear on the glycemic radar, making them wise additions to breakfast foods.
When it comes to replacing salt, fat and sugar in breakfast fare, herbs are flavor heroes. Factor in their medicinal properties and dietary nutrients and it becomes clear that herbs are essential breakfast ingredients. Fresh rosemary, for example, contains compounds useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation and improving concentration. Most herbs also contribute significant amounts of vitamins A and C, some vitamin B, folate and a wide variety of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc—all nutrients we need to get going and stay alert.
To ease your transition to healthier breakfast habits, start by stocking your refrigerator and freezer with whole-grain staples. Our low-fat, low-sugar, high-herb muffins, scones, quick breads and biscuits (recipes available at herbcompanion.com) are easy to make in advance. All can be stored in airtight containers to last into the workweek. Add low-fat cheese, yogurt or leftover chicken or fish, and these homemade power foods provide a complete and convenient morning meal. Make them on the weekend or the night before, then simply grab and go.
For the ultimate in healthy ways to rise and shine, I paired some great whole-grain, herbal breakfast dishes with slow-release protein foods to create the following recipes. The biscuits, muffins and bread are great to have on hand for breakfast on the run, or for a snack any time of day. So go ahead: Leave the sticky buns, Danish and empty-calorie bagels on the bakery shelf, and reach for these tasty, herbally-healthy super starters to make your morning glorious.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a helpful tool for determining how much your blood glucose will increase two or three hours after eating. To avoid drastic changes in blood sugar levels, choose low-GI foods and avoid high-GI foods. High-GI foods (such as cornflakes, croissants, potatoes, most rice, white bread and white sugar) break down quickly in the intestine, causing the blood glucose level to rise rapidly.
Low-GI foods (such as whole-grain, stone-ground or sourdough breads; oat, barley and bran cereals; most fruits; and legumes, such as beans and lentils) release lower levels of sugars over a longer period of time, thus keeping blood glucose levels fairly even. For a complete Index and more information, see “The Glycemic Index” at www.mendosa.com/gi.htm by freelance medical writer and consultant David Mendosa, who specializes in diabetes.
Chopping fresh culinary herbs into whole-grain breakfast recipes is a great way to enhance the most important meal of the day. For maximum breakfast goodness, try these tips:
• Sprinkle up to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) over whole-grain cereal or yogurt. Preliminary evidence indicates cinnamon can lower blood glucose.
• Use stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), a sweet-tasting herb, whenever possible as a sugar replacement.
• Anise-flavored herbs, such as sweet cicely, chervil and tarragon, complement stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries) and whole-grain baked goods.
• Try lemon herbs, such as lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and lemon-scented geranium leaves, with citrus fruits and strawberries. Also add them to yogurt; or use the leaves to make a refreshing morning tea blend.
• Mints in the morning are stimulating. Just 1 tablespoon fresh chopped peppermint, hyssop, lemon balm, catnip or any mint-flavored scented geranium leaves will perk up breakfast melons, berries or yogurt smoothies.
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