The Nation's Health + Nutrition

Nutrition: Sugar for breakfast

We were reviewing Stuart's diet because of his persistent small LDL, low HDL, modestly elevated triglycerides, and blood sugar of 107 mg/dl.

"I've changed my diet, doc. No kidding. We never fry our foods. No butter, no goodies. I don't know what else I can possibly do."

"Okay. Let's review your diet. What did you have for breakfast?"

"Orange juice, a big glass. Gotta get my potassium. Then cereal like Cheerios or Shredded Wheat, sometimes Kashi or Raisin Bran, always in skim milk. Gotta have my one slice of toast, no butter. I'll put some fruit preserves on it. You know, real fruit. Only whole wheat bread, never white. On Sundays, we always go out for pancakes, but now we order only whole wheat."

Many of us have gotten into a peculiar habit: Having what amounts to pure sugar for breakfast. Perhaps there's a little fiber thrown in with it, but many people indulge in breakfasts that are sugar and plenty of it. That's precisely what Stuart is doing: A breakfast that, while it doesn't contain a huge amount of sugar outside of the orange juice, is promptly converted to sugar. If we were to check his blood sugar just after his standard breakfast, it would rise substantially.

This pattern has become deeply ingrained into the American psyche. Some people will act like I've suggested we overthrow the government when I suggest that breakfast cereals need to be eliminated from their lives. We all share memories of Tony the Tiger, the leprechaun on Lucky Charms ("They're magically delicious!), reading the brightly colored boxes often including games and prizes. Breakfast cereals seem as American as apple pie. But the wheat and corn content ensures a big rise in blood sugar, the sort that create small LDL, low HDL, etc.--all the patterns Stuart is showing--and make us fat.

Orange juice? Too much sugar all at once. Get your potassium from whole vegetables and fruits, not from orange juice. (Bananas are another problem source of potassium for similar reasons despite being a whole fruit.)

Toast? Any diabetic who monitors their blood sugar after meals will tell you: Even one slice of bread, ANY bread, skyrockets blood sugar. Add the fruit preserves made with sugar syrup and it's doubly worse.

Pancakes? Even if made with plenty of fiber, blood sugars go absolutely berserk after a meal like this, especially if maple syrup is added.

In other words, the seemingly healthy breakfast Stuart eats guarantees that he fails to control all his patterns that contribute to his coronary plaque growth.

After I pointed out Stuart's dietary faux pas, he asked, "Then what the heck can I eat?"

"There's actually lots of good choices: Eggs (preferably free-range, if available, or the 'omega-3' enriched) or Egg Beaters; oat products, but true oat products like slow-cooked oatmeal, or the best of all, oat bran, used as a hot cereal; ground flaxseed as a hot cereal with added fruit, berries, nuts; a handful of raw almonds, walnuts, pecans; some cheese, preferably traditional fermented cheese and not processed; low-fat cottage cheese; low-fat yogurt that you flavor yourself with berries and nuts; raw seeds like sunflower and pumpkin.

"Try and save some of your dinner foods for breakfast. For instance, save some green peppers and onions from your salad and put it in your scrambled eggs along with some olive oil. Save some of the chicken and add it to your breakfast. Save some of the cooked vegetables and have them as they are. You'll be surprised how filling dinner foods can be when eaten for breakfast."

It's not that tough. But Stuart and many other people need to break the hold that the food manufacturers have created. If you're hoping to seize hold of your heart scan score, get rid of the sugar foods in your morning, even the ones cleverly disguised as healthy.

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