Cooking to Control Pain: Breakfast
Have you heard the news? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is no mythical wives’ tale. This is cold, crunchy fact. But, maybe we should move beyond the breakfast cereal. Let us examine the benefits of breakfast and its role in controlling not only weight, but also pain.
The benefits of breakfast are bountiful. First, a good meal at the start of the day helps to control hunger throughout the day. Nutritionists have a technical term for being full; they call it satiety (the state of being satisfied) and actually have something called a “satiety index”. The lower the satiety index for a food item, the less likely it will “stick to your ribs”. Take for example, a croissant versus wheat bran. A croissant passes like air through your system leaving you hungry again within the hour. Whereas, wheat bran takes longer to digest and hence controls hunger much longer. The importance of satiety is to eliminate binge eating that occurs at the 10:30am break when you may be facing a box of donuts. In turn, breakfast eaters are known to be skinner with a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-breakfast eaters. Because those who skip breakfast are highly likely to be starving by dinner time, evening time becomes “pig-out” time. Most importantly, especially for children, breakfast makes you smarter. Concentration and attention both improve with a proper breakfast. Actually, some nutritionists theorize that some symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder are caused by a bad (or no) breakfast. Wow, that makes you think So, maybe mom’s advice is right; maybe breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
But, how can the right breakfast help to control pain? The key to this puzzle is to control inflammation. You need to understand that inflammation is the hot, red, swollen, and painful process that is a part of many types of diseases. Arthritis, neuritis, and myositis are typical examples of joint pain, nerve pain, and muscle pain. The “-itis” implies that inflammation is involved. The normal inflammatory process is naturally controlled by the body and promotes healing. However, abnormal inflammation extends beyond the normal control points and creates havoc. When this fire gets out of control, the person is in a “pro-inflammatory” state. The fuel that promotes this wildfire can be the fuel that feeds you-your diet. And good nutrition starts with breakfast. Let’s dig a little deeper by dipping our spoon into a bowl of oatmeal.
Oatmeal; everyone thinks that this form of the oat grain is the ultimate, healthy breakfast meal. However, not everyone realizes that all oat products are not created equally. The main concern with eating any grain-based carbohydrate is the sugar content-the glycemic index. Not only is the sugar content important, the speed in which the carbohydrate is processed called the glycemic load is even more important. Glycemic index and glycemic load are indicators about how a food item is going to affect the blood sugar level. A food item with a high glycemic index and high lglycemic load causes a huge spike in the blood sugar level. Blood sugar spikes cause major problems like promoting inflammation. So, let’s get back to our bowl of oatmeal. If you have instant oatmeal, the glycemic load of a serving is 51. If you have a bowl of “steel-cut” oatmeal, the glycemic load is 24. Thus, eating steel cut oats as opposed to instant oatmeal will cut your glycemic load for that meal in half. That means that the sugar spike in your body is also reduced by half. Maintaining a normal blood sugar level is important because sugar is stressful. Just like free-radicals, sugar attacks and attaches to many things like hemoglobin (anyone heard of the hemoglobin-A1C?). This sugar-stress promotes inflammation and pain. In fact, recent research has proven that a low glycemic load diet reduces a major indicator of inflammation called the C-reactive protein (CRP). The CRP is measured to detect not only the inflammation of infection and pain but also of heart disease. Wow, heart disease! That’s right inflammation is involved in heart disease, pain, Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel, and other major chronic disease. Poor nutrition is a common pathway to chronic disease and pain.
And breakfast is the gateway to improving health. Healthy eating can start with breakfast. Just follow these basic guidelines:
- Savory not sweet
- Use what is in season
- Eat when hungry, not right away
- Use meat as flavor, not as the star of the show
- Use high quality, flavorful ingredients because a little can go a long way
- Expand the possibilities away from the boxed cereal, processed food
- Make batches that can store for the week (I like to soak a batch of steel-cut oatmeal overnight)
By following these guidelines, you can make breakfast the most important meal of the day. These tools can be expanded to all the meals of the day as you cook to control pain. To read more about an anti-inflammatory diet, I recommend a book by Dr. Andrew Weil. Food really can be a form of medicine and part of your pain treatment program.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.