Even recently, the prevailing view of nutrition would behold the classic American breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries, toast, orange juice, and coffee and easily pick out what’s unhealthy the eggs (cholesterol), bacon (fat), and coffee (caffeine) from what’s good for you the potatoes (a vegetable), bread (nothing’s more wholesome than toast, right?) and the OJ (all that vitamin C).
That’s what can be most frustrating about science: What’s praised as good today may be condemned as bad tomorrow, and vice versa. It’s not necessarily that we were wrong then and right now. It’s just that our knowledge is constantly growing, and along the way we sometimes have to unlearn what we thought was true.
Breakfast is a good example of this. Back before World War II, eggs were considered healthy high in protein and other nutrients. Then, beginning in the ’70s, when doctors first began looking into the ill effects of cholesterol, eggs suddenly became a prime culprit. You were advised to limit yourself to two or three a week, and none at all if you had a high cholesterol. Bacon, too, because of the saturated fats and chemicals used in curing it, was portrayed as not just bad, but toxic. We didn’t worry about carbohydrates as a category of food, and especially not about orange juice, which became America’s favorite health drink.
We now know that eggs are a perfectly fine food. It turns out that they raise both kinds of cholesterol, the good along with the bad, and they do not adversely affect the ratio of the two which is the number that really counts. The yolk contains natural vitamin E, an important antioxidant that helps prevent cancer and heart disease.
Even the bacon’s not so terrible, so long as you don’t overdo it. The coffee’s acceptable too, with the same caution.
The rest of the breakfast, though, has got to go. The hash browns? We’ve already discussed how high the glycemic index of potatoes is, especially the white ones. And when a food is chopped into small pieces, it more rapidly yields its sugars and starches. Take a white potato, cut it into slivers, deep-fry it in some unhealthy oil it tastes great but wreaks havoc on your blood chemistry.
The toast? You know by now how bad white bread is for anyone trying to lose weight. Each slice is worse than a spoonful of table sugar. If the label on the bread boasts that it’s “enriched,” you’re really in trouble. Manufacturers add nutrients only because the natural ones in the wheat have been removed along with the fiber. People today feel wise when they order whole wheat or rye toast, another triumph of marketing and labeling, because the term whole wheat is almost meaningless. The bread may have more nutrients, but the flour is still highly refined. That label does not signify that you’re getting the entire grain of wheat, fiber and all, as you should that’s only in whole grain bread. And whole grain bread is rarely found in a supermarket or a restaurant breakfast table.
Did you decide, for health reasons, to spread your toast with jelly instead of butter? The problem with that decision is that most jellies are loaded with sugar. Butter (within limits) would actually be better for you, since fat slows the absorption of the carbs in the bread. There are better things to eat on bread than butter, but jelly isn’t one of them. Same is true for jam. It’s loaded with sucrose table sugar.
How about that orange juice? If it’s processed and sold in a carton, you could drink cola with nearly the same results. There are good nutrients in orange juice, but you can get those any number of ways without having to take in all the sugar that comes along for the ride in processed juice. Freshsqueezed is somewhat better, because it has fiber the pulp that slows the absorption of the fructose. We tend to believe that the sweetness of fruit and the sweetness of, say, candy, are two totally different things, but they are not. All the tastes we describe as sweet come from sugars. Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, does in fact have a lower glycemic index than table sugar. Mixed in with fiber, fructose is acceptable. Without the fiber, it can hurt your diet. So eat whole fruit rather than drink juice.
Can you have your favorite breakfast and stick to the South Beach Diet? Yes, with a few modifications.
Cook the eggs in a healthy way, such as boiling or poaching. If you fry, use a spray oil either soy, canola, or olive rather than butter or margarine.
Try Canadian bacon instead of the usual kind it’s leaner, lower in saturated fat, and higher in protein than the regular kind.
The potatoes have got to go there’s no way to salvage them. But they can be replaced with cereal, especially oat bran, which has lots of fiber and helps with cholesterol, too. Stay clear of instant oatmeal, however less fiber, more bad carbs. Get the kind you actually have to cook for a few minutes, the coarser the better, and use a sugar substitute, not sugar, and skim milk (if you require any). Oatmeal may not be an even swap for those good home fries, but it can be an acceptable substitute. Some sacrifices must be made.
If you love the taste of orange too much to give it up, eat the whole fruit. That way you get juice, flesh, fiber, nutrients, vitamin C the whole package as nature intended. And I’ll wager you won’t consume three or four oranges at a sitting, the way you do when you drink a big glass of juice.
You can have a slice of whole grain toast, topped with some hearthealthy spread there are several good ones out there to be found in most supermarket dairy sections. These are not the margarines of old, which contain those bad trans fatty acids that can harm your cardiovascular system.
The coffee is fine, too, with low-fat milk and sugar substitute (if any sweetener).
Nowadays, of course, the classic bacon and egg breakfast is being overshadowed by its fast-food interpretation the Egg McMuffin. In this meal we have to contend with the bad, saturated fat in the bacon. But the portion of meat is so small that it’s not really a major concern, unless you’re having two of these every day. As for the egg itself, it’s probably not being cooked in the healthiest fat, but again, there’s good protein and nutrients without dangerous amounts of bad cholesterol, so even this is permissible.
The biggest problem, of course, is in the highly processed carbs in the white-flour muffin. If you have that plus the potatoes and fruit juice, you’re having a high-glycemic load start to your day, ensuring cravings for more carbs later. McDonald’s is no health food emporium, but then no one who dines there is under any false impression.
If you must indulge, either throw away the entire muffin and eat with a fork, or just order the scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast, hold the potatoes, hold the juice.
2003 by Arthur Agatston, M.D. – The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight loss – Link