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
If 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?
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