I’m tired of hearing how breakfast is the most important meal of the day –absolute rot. Breakfast is entirely optional and – the way most people use it – is best avoided entirely. To understand why, it’s important to look back into our dark, wild past when we roamed the earth as nomadic people, in touch with nature and living off her bounty. We need to go back before the dawn of agriculture to a time when our survival depended on our skills of hunting and gathering
For our ancient ancestors, what tasted best was best . Our craving for fat, sweet and salty flavours today is no unfortunate coincidence – it’s these very deep cravings (like sex) that kept our species going for millennia in an ancient world.
Stone Age man’s palette was highly sensitised to the merest hint of sweetness or saltiness and was ‘hard-wired’ to seek it out, as this was his best indicator that a food would be high in fat and protein or essential nutrients. These preferences would encourage him to hunt and consume meat whenever possible, or certain sweet fruits, vegetables or honey. (Before we started cultivating them, most vegetables were, although more nutritious, saddled with a sourer taste than we are familiar with today.)
His love for sweet, salty or fatty foods discouraged him from choosing blander, less nutritional options like ground roots unless he had no other option. Given a choice between, say, bison and yams your body wants you to eat bison. As bison meat is, pound for pound, more nutritious than yams, it’s no accident that in taste comparison tests, bison wins every time.
This drive for salty, sweet or fatty foods ensured our appetite remained fired up and able to motivate our behaviour towards hunting out our next nutritious meal. Our sweet tooth once made us crave seasonal fruit or extremely limited supplies of honey. These were prized because of their nutritional value and, of course, their scarcity. These once rare and precious foods are now supplied year round by Tesco and other loveable supermarket chains, but the convenience of purchasing fruit and honey from middle-ranking supermarkets in itself isn’t really the problem.
The real issue today is that modern foods are in fact imposters. These pseudo-foods are cunningly designed to mimic the tastes that we associate with healthy foods, while actually supplying us with something entirely different. They are a chimera, a poison chalice, a Trojan horse – use whatever metaphor you will.
Take breakfast cereal for example – any major brand. Even the ones that aren’t ‘frosted’ (covered in cheap sugar) affect our bodies in the way that no component of a Paleolithic diet ever could.
The very moment the product enters our mouths it starts to break down and be digested very quickly (so quickly it might as well be pure sugar), and our taste buds are delighted they’ve been given something rare and sweet to feast on. Driven by the very oldest part of our brain, our instincts tell us that sweet things are special and should be eaten quickly while they’re available. Of course we don’t actually ‘think’ this, our body just knows this because it tastes so good, and leaves the conscious brain in peace to watch breakfast TV.
There isn’t really anything like this in the wild. Fruit and honey are certainly sweet and do contain carbs, but they are also packed with nutrients and other goodies needed to stay healthy. More importantly they’re also a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ kind of thing in the wild – not something to depend on year round. Unfortunately, modern grains and cereal are much, much higher in carbohydrates, lower in every other form of nutrient and are readily available any time you want, year round.
The Insulin Trap
Modern, refined carbs are available for twelve months of the year and are rarely treated like an occasional indulgence. Cereals, grains and pasta form the rock bed of many people’s diets. They break down almost instantly in the mouth and cause a massive rise the hormone, insulin. Insulin takes the sugar deposited in the bloodstream in the form of glucose out of the bloodstream and delivers it to the muscles where it can be used as energy. However, the body just isn’t built to handle this much sugar this fast (as nothing exists like it in nature) so it demands more insulin to be produced than was ever intended to clear up all the sugar sloshing about in the system.
In a diet filled with this sort of high-calorie carbohydrate, the body is flooded with insulin on a long-term basis. Over time the muscles, reacting to the insulin, start to become de-sensitised and ignore the very important message it brings, and so stop taking this glucose into the muscles. This energy has got to go somewhere, so instead it is diverted and stored as fat.
The continual presence of all this sugar in the bloodstream raises blood glucose levels unnaturally high. The body is actually threatened by this and reacts by releasing adrenaline, giving the owner a temporary high.
However, everyone knows that what goes up must come down, so when the individual finally takes a break from this cereal-fest, their blood glucose levels crash, leading to instant fatigue, lethargy, premature sleepiness and sometimes depression (as with me in the bad old days). This is prime fat storing time.
Nobody likes feeling like this. Just like a junkie deprived of a hit, the body starts to crave another shot of adrenaline. “Just one more hit, I can handle it,” you lie to yourself, your appetite for sweet foods now thoroughly whetted. Later, you whine: “I’m so tired! Another bowl of cereal will give me the energy I need. After all, I felt on top of the world after the last one…” Our false reasoning only deepens the nutritional trap in which we have been so cleverly ensnared.
Boosted by our unrestrained instinct for more sweetness, we start the processed sugar hit and crash cycle all over again: reaching for more food that our bodies continue to mistake for the occasional treat that nature offers us. The result is addiction, misery, obesity and ill-health.
However the food industry makes lots of money from cereals so it must be good, right?