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Breakfast Beans to Beat the Hangries

Breakfast Beans to Beat the Hangries

When I say "From Sun to Plant to Plate," I really mean it. Not only should we eat plant food in as close to its original state as is possible and palatable, but the dawning of the morning sun should remind us to start the day with plant energy on our plate so we can power through the long hours that lie ahead. 

Most people would consider oatmeal and fruit a good, plant-based breakfast. Fiber-rich whole grain cereal for breakfast is certainly an improvement over white flour bagels. In my opinion, oatmeal isn't a bad way to start the day, but for many people it's less than optimal. I'll tell you why: hunger. When I first switched to a plant-based diet, I ate lots of fresh fruit for breakfast, and I'd load up my breakfast bowl with oatmeal, maybe a sprinkle of nuts, and a few splashes of a plant-based milk. I felt "healthy" eating this way. But by mid-morning, I no longer felt healthy; I felt hangry. According to the Urban Dictionary, "hangry" is "when you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both." That pretty well sums up how I felt a couple hours after my morning oatmeal. What's more, many of the patients whom I was advising in plant-based living reported similar results. What to do? Enter Neal Barnard, MD, and beans for breakfast.

Help for the "Hangries"
In his book, Breaking the Food Seduction, Dr. Barnard makes the observation that around the world, many cultures consider beans standard breakfast fare:

While visiting Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula many years ago, I noticed that ... the locals ate black beans with toast or tortillas.

Later, while visiting London, I noticed a similar phenomenon. Beans on toast was a common choice. In Australia, the same breakfast fare didn't raise an eyebrow at all. And a friend from the Middle East told me that hummus, made from chickpeas, was a common breakfast food.

How is it, I wondered, that nearly every other country has found ways to turn various bean dishes into hearty breakfast fare, while North Americans still find the custom totally alien?

Dr. Barnard goes on to state that the breakfast taco is changing the morning landscape here in the U.S. Beans or scrambled tofu (a lightly processed soybean food) tuck very nicely into a whole-grain tortilla and can be an eye-opening wake-up food if you enjoy a fresh and zesty salsa on top. 

Once I incorporated beans for breakfast, my mid-morning hunger issues disappeared. Beans are high in protein, which Dr. Barnard says helps block the serotonin boost that a breakfast high in simple starches can give us, making us feel sluggish. But while beans are a great source of protein, they get more of their calories from complex carbohydrates. In fact, beans are brimming with complex carbohydrates which is one reason why they can hold off the hanger and power us through until lunch. Complex carbohydrates include fiber and starches, some of which are resistant starches. Those types of starch don't start breaking down until late in the digestion process. Due to the complex carbohydrates, beans stabilize our blood sugar, keeping us from the dips that lead to grumpiness and low temptation-resistance to the ever-present office doughnuts.

Beans Provide Energy and Fight Disease
FrmSunToPlantToPlate.x400.webIf a fruit and whole grain breakfast comfortably carries you through to lunch, then I'm all for it. But many of us need more, and beans sure have "more." The protein and complex starches in our breakfast beans provide a concentrated source of calories which give us the extra energy we need to keep moving all morning. Have you noticed the plate on the "From Sun to Plant to Plate" graphic? That's actually a photo of my meal one morning (the picture is typical of my breakfast plate — except that I don't usually cut my tomatoes into flower shapes). I believe in eating breakfast like a king. It's breakfasts like that which keep me calm and able to concentrate in a busy, solo medical practice. My patients who want to lose weight consider breakfast beans a weight-loss miracle because the concentrated calories and high fiber keep them full and able to resist temptation. Patients with high cholesterol love the LDL lowering-power of the high fiber in beans (lentils lower cholesterol better than any other legume). And patients who battle to keep their blood sugar stable find that beans for breakfast are unbeatable for stabilizing their numbers.

These days, I've moved fruit and well-cooked whole grains to my evening meal. It makes supper preparation easy after a long day. And since a light supper digests more quickly, my nighttime sleep is deeper and more refreshing. I wake up rested and ready to face a new day, and I always start it with the sustaining energy of beans. Why not give breakfast beans a try and experience the energy yourself?

For additional reading:

(1) What Does a Plant-Based Dinner Plate Look Like?

(2) Starch-Smart® System: Beans, Greens, Squash, and Yams

(3) How Do I Cook Beans?

(4) Is There a Difference Between Canned and Cooked Beans?

(5) Beans, Beans the Magical "Cholesterol Pill"?

(6) Can Eating Beans Inhibit Cancer Cell Growth?

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Comments (3)

Rated 5 out of 5 based on 1 voters
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I like how you weave in the quote from Dr. Barnard showing how common it is to eat beans for breakfast in so many parts of the world. I think it's a great protocol if it keeps one fueled until their next meal time For me, however, I find that I am typically hungry every 3 hours or so no matter what my morning meal. Some days it's tofu scramble with beans and potatoes and most days it's a huge (fit for a queen) bowl of thickly cut rolled oats, with berries, apples, seeds, walnuts and made with some soymilk. But just to doublecheck the accuracy of what I just stated, I will try to make some new comparisons in the future.

I do agree with you that dishing up a dinner like oatmeal and fruit could be very attractive to many busy people. And it really is a no brainer to make it which is what one might want after a busy day of living.

  Denise Rose
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Thanks for considering this. In our work we can't really afford to be hungry in three hours because we will not have any opportunity to eat for at least a couple more hours. We generally eat around 6:30 AM and will not have another opportunity to eat until lunchtime around 12:30. So, we need to eat enough that we won't become HANGRY before it is time to eat. We need to eat enough quantity but also eat a quality of food that will not be digested too quickly. We need foods with staying power. That is where the beans and the complex carbohydrates like the squash and sweet potatoes really shine. Of course you can also eat whole grains and other starchy vegetables as well. The starches are the key to success of course but some starches burn faster than others. :-)

  Sean Carney
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Wow, you last 6 hours with your breakfast food! That is impressive! I will share your strategies with others now that I better understand. I figured it was the fiber and speed of digestion. Thanks for your explanation. Happy WFPB eating.

  Denise Rose
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