Breaking down breakfast

A big part of making RealFood sustainable is figuring out how these wholesome RealFood ingredients come together to form a meal and one fairly significant issue most of us face is during breakfast. While we understand the concept of real food, it seems to me, that a lot of us are a little lost when it comes to cooking and/or assembling a legit real food breakfast. In this post, I’ll try and fix this.

Breakfast is the first meal of the day (hence the name break-fast) and doesn’t have to be consumed at a specific time as falsely believed. While it is in no way the most important meal of the day and skipping breakfast is extremely beneficial, if you do eat it, it makes sense to eat a good meal with the right ingredients as opposed to falling into the trap of believing that processed junk like cereals, energy bars, fruit juices and health drinks are actually healthful and relying on them to keep you healthy.

It is true that we have been eating breakfast for a long long time but that doesn’t mean we know, today, what to eat for breakfast. In the last 50-70 years our lifestyles have changed so drastically and we’ve been forced to shift to a lifestyle that involves minimal physical exertion. So, obviously, what we eat today cannot be the same as what we used to eat back when we lead very active lives, if we worry about health that is.

Today, most of us, wake up, sit and then go back to sleep. I’m really not kidding. Take a piece of paper (or open a spreadsheet) and note down your posture (sitting, standing, lying down, walking etc.) for an entire day and you’ll see that sitting or lying down dominates your 24 hours by a big margin. As important as it is to fix this and find ways to feature standing, walking etc. more often, it is absolutely necessary to fuel yourself depending on your activity.

The requirements

Now let’s assume that most people (who read this) spend the majority of their day doing little to no physical work. For such people, here is what is expected out of a perfect breakfast (in the order of importance w.r.t sustainability from a common man’s perspective).

  • Taste
  • Momentary satisfaction or (vaguely) instant fullness
  • Duration of satiety or ‘time to hunger’ after breakfast and energy levels between breakfast and next meal
  • Micro-nutrient richness (and absence of allergens/anti-nutrients)
  • Hassle-free availability and societal acceptance

The ingredients

Now that we have the requirements listed, let’s look at the ingredients that satisfy these requirements (in the order of significance)

1. Whole food proteins

  • Sources: Country eggs, natural cheeses and high quality meat/seafood.
  • Offerings: Excellent momentary satiety, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety and micro-nutrient richness.

2. Organic produce

  • Sources: Any and all vegetables and fruits.
  • Offerings: Excellent momentary satisfaction, taste (when cooked right) and micro-nutrient richness.

3. Farm fresh dairy

  • Sources: Whole milk, whole milk yogurt, cheese, whey, kefir, salt lassi and buttermilk.
  • Offerings: Taste, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety, micro-nutrient richness, easy availability and social acceptance.

4. Benign starches

  • Sources: Cooked white rice, rice based dishes (idly, dosa, vermicelli, pongal, puttu), pre-soaked/sprouted legumes/beans/pulses, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, taro and other tubers.
  • Offerings: Taste, excellent momentary satisfaction, micro-nutrient richness (pulses and lentils), easy and wide availability and social acceptance.

5. Oils

  • Sources: Ghee, butter and coconut oil for cooking and olive oil/sesame oil for toppings
  • Offerings: Taste, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety and micro-nutrient richness.

The meal

Now that we have the identified the right tools to do the job, let’s talk about how to do the job. Here are some examples for a 65-70kg male who works a desk job and works out 2-3 times a week.

Example 1

Two home-size ghee dosas topped with an egg each and a handful of vegetables + coconut/spinach chutney + 1 cup milk/yogurt + 1 fruit (if required).

  • If eggs aren’t an option, make them cheese dosas using about 20g of cheese per dosa.
  • If meat is an option, have the dosa with a light (little to no oil) meat gravy.
  • If fat loss is a goal, drop it down to 1 dosa and keep everything else the same.

Example 2

Three home sized idlys or 1 cup pongal/poha + coconut/spinach chutney + 1/2 cup sambar + 2 cups vegetables cooked in 1 tsp oil + 1 cup milk/yogurt + 2 eggs.

  • If eggs aren’t an option, a scoop of whey protein mixed in with the milk/yogurt will do.
  • If fat loss is a goal, drop it down to 2 idlies or 1/2 cup pongal/poha and keep everything else the same.

Example 3

Three eggs cooked any style + 150 g potatoes baked/pan-seared + 2 tsp oil + 1 cup roasted/steamed vegetables + 30-40 g cheese.

  • Potatoes can be replaced with any other root or tuber from radishes to beetroot.
  • If cheese is not an option, a cup of yogurt or salt lassi or raita will do.
  • If eggs are not an option, a scoop of whey in a cup of milk is a fair (but in no way an equivalent) replacement.
  • If meat is an option, eat bacon.

Example 4

Two cups of daal or pulses + 1-2 cups of cooked vegetables + 1-2 cups of fruit smoothie made with 1 cup yogurt and 1 cup fruit.

  • If meat is an option, add some grilled meat or smoked salmon etc and drop the pulses and yogurt to 1/2 a cup.

Example 5

Two cups of breakfast smoothie made with 1-1.5 cup whole milk, 1 scoop vanilla whey powder, 1 medium fruit/1 cup berries, 1/2 cup baby spinach, 8-10 cashew nuts.

  • If chocolate whey powder is what you have, make a similar smoothie with milk, whey, coffee powder, fruit and cashew nuts or almonds.

Example 6

Forget all of this and have a couple of cups of green/black tea or black coffee without sugar and enjoy intermittent fasting.

The reasoning

  • Listen, I know we don’t need much protein to stay healthy. But we also don’t need to sit in front of a freakin TV for hours and hours everyday or eat mountains of rice in every meal. We do the latter oh-so-happily and frequently, so we need to balance it out by doing the former. So stop trying to fight change and embrace it. If for nothing else, protein is extremely satiating and hence helps keep you fuller longer and in-turn controls overall calorie consumption.
  • If you’re going to eat any food in plenty, you better make sure you buy the best quality. Obviously you should be eating vegetables in plenty and so make sure you buy organic. No way around it. Stop being penny wise, pound foolish and invest in high quality ingredients. You’ll eat better tasting food and live a longer lasting life.
  • Starches aren’t ‘necessary’. That doesn’t mean you completely avoid them. Starches aren’t evil. That doesn’t mean you base your meals around them. Considering today’s food scenario, starches are important because they are easily available, satisfy most people’s taste buds and help most meals look & feel complete. In other words, starches are important because they make eating RealFood sustainable. So eat your starches per your activity levels and make them benign by avoiding allergenic grains.
  • If fat loss is your goal, you need to pull out as many empty calories as possible. That translates to removing as much starch as possible. If endurance training is your thing, you’ll need more starches than listed here. Eat up!

A good breakfast isn’t where it ends. Understand the concept of RealFood and make smart choices during all meals. If you think this will be of help to your friends or family, do share.

Peace out.

– – – – –

Photo credit:

12 responses to “Breaking down breakfast

  1. swarna mani April 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Very nice post Raj!!

  2. scorp30 April 4, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Hi re fasting, wont it lead to acidity?

  3. Adhokshaj April 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Hello RG,
    You mention that the cheese consumed should be unprocessed. Does it mean only Paneer?
    What other type of Cheese is unprocessed? (Slices, Cheese spread etc. are processed).


  4. Lavanya S April 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Quite a good post. But i am confused that how could one can have such a spread of breakfast in one go… coz, v r thin people in our family and could manage only 3 idlies r 2 dosas n not more than that, and then to include 1 cup of veggies would b doubtful… can v have it as mid- time meal (snack)…. i was all along trying to get in some veggies in the breakfast plate, but failing consistently.. help.

  5. Namy April 8, 2012 at 4:55 am

    How is bacon real food? We have it very rarely at home thinking it wasn’t one of the ‘good’ ways of eating meat…

  6. Shilpa Bharatan April 9, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Hi RG I’ve just started following your blog… one quick question … on the days that i’m not working out does 1 glass of whole milk (110ml) at breakfast fulfill my protein requirement… to be more specific…

    1glass of coffee with milk at 6.30 AM followed by 1 glass of whole milk, 1 dosa and 1 cup of watermelon pieces at 8.30 constitute an adequate amount of protein intake for breakfast?

    • RG April 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Depends on bodyweight and goals. For most people it should be enough. But having 2 cups of milk by 8:30am leaves you with very little protein choices for the rest of the day (especially if you’re a vegetarian).

  7. RG April 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    What about Oats? Why don’t you recommend Oats for breakfast?

  8. Vibha Ghai April 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Exactly what I was going to ask … no oats?

%d bloggers like this: