Kitchen series – Breakfast anyone?

These days I am often chided and told of the harm I am doing by skipping breakfast. I am told that we must eat a big breakfast to start the day. Even our parents, who were not at all fussed about breakfast when we were growing up (in the 70’s) are now totally in the big breakfast camp. The powers of advertising have influenced every family! If you keep repeating a lie, you start believing in it!

If you do a google search about ‘importance of breakfast’, the first 50 links will tell you it’s the most important meal of the day. The first link which comes up is obviously from ‘WebMD’ the white-coat spokesperson of the industry! The powers of SEO!! If you scroll several pages the more objective articles can be seen.

You are brainwashed and convinced that you just cannot miss breakfast even for a day. Not just that – you must eat something every 2 hours!! This gives the word breakfast a new meaning. Even an hour without food is now thought of as’fasting’!! Your system will slow down, your body will stop burning calories, and the thing you always dreaded, the muffin-top, will comeback. Wake up, eat and rev-up your metabolism like a Lamborghini! And just like a Lamborghini needs to be tanked up every now and then, you will need to keep eating and eating and eating!

Even though you were healthy, lean and a bundle of energy in your young days having eaten your small traditional morning bites, sometimes even skipping it without the slightest pangs of hunger (because you  would effortlessly burn the stored energy in your fat cells), you are now confronted with this ‘new found wisdom’ that the key to lifelong health is ‘breakfast like a king’!! How do you suddenly do that? Never mind that you are not really hungry but still you have to feast because you need to ‘kick-start’ your metabolism. So what if you just don’t have the time every morning to prepare food for yourself or your family. We have that covered too. CEREALS!! Isn’t it amazing that the ‘new found wisdom’ and the growth of the ‘breakfast industry’ happened at the same time (sarcy)!

The-7-Worst-Breakfast-Foods-to-Eat-in-the-Morning-Healthy-CerealsWhen you have to rush out in the morning, prepare your kids for school, serve your ‘pati-dev’ (hubby) his morning fix, while having a con-call with your horrible boss, what do you go for? Grab the carton of milk (low-fat, you have been told), pour some in a bowl, add some beautifully boxed cereals (high in all the nutrients science could come up with – sarcy), gulp down the contents and the whole family is are out of the door believing that they have just ticked-off the first criteria of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle !


And what about the ‘eat-every-2 hours’ wisdom? We have that covered too. You see the ‘wise-men’ don’t leave anything to chance. You pack some cereal bars, a few muffins, some ‘healthy’ multigrain chips in the snack box. Yesssss! The guilty working mom, is now guilt-free. You’ve provided for the family, your kids are getting the ‘healthy’ start, your in-laws are happy their son (your pati-dev) is getting his ‘heart healthy’ meal, you are doing exactly what the ‘wise men’ told you to do. Nothing can go wrong! Right? WRONG!!

Obesity and obesity related conditions have never ever been so widespread, in epidemic proportions, in the history of mankind. Humans have never consumed so much sugar in the history of mankind. And it all starts with the modern breakfast…AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT THIS S+#% OR FEED IT TO YOUR LOVED ONES!!

Breakfast cereals are big business. They dominate entire supermarket aisles, floor to ceiling, and generate some $11 billion in annual sales. Incredibly, the industry has even managed to persuade the public that breakfast cereals are an essential part of good nutrition and weight management. They have also co-opted the science demonstrating that fibers from vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts can somehow be replaced by the inert bulk of cellulose through bran cereals for bowel health (see the picture above screaming ‘fibers’).

Use your own wisdom. Listen to your body. If you have been following the advise of the ‘wise men’, chances are you are no longer healthy nor the bundle of energy you once were. Don’t accept it as part of ageing. My grandma was full of energy, I never recall her being fatigued, ever! Try to remember what you ate growing up. Thank your stars for that, get back to it and give the same to your children.



A Chinese reaches for a bowl of porridge of soybeans or rice, a Japanese sips miso-thickened broth and a Korean might eat beef dumplings in broth. On the side are little sly, dishes of pickled cabbage, lettuce and radish. Breakfast, washed down by tea, is savory, not sweet; seldom greasy, and to an Asian palate tasty. It is a meal thousands of years old.

What Japanese eat in restaurants and in their homes, whether in Düsseldorf, or in Tokyo, is what their ancestors ate at least as far back as the seventh century. The typical breakfast,  is soup, rice and pickles. Anything you have in addition, like grilled fish, relates to circumstance — wealth or geography — rather than an era.

China has two traditional breakfasts, northern and southern, dictated by local agriculture. The breakfast of northern China, where soybeans and wheat grow, is eaten in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan. The southern Chinese counterpart of soy-milk soup is congee or jook, a soup made by cooking rice for two hours, until the grains amalgamate into the broth. Because rice is scarce in the north, the soup there is served thin, but in the south, where rice is plentiful, the jook is thick. Jook is to the southern Chinese as chicken broth is to Jews. Jook is truly ancient, and dates at least to 171 B.C. This somewhat bland soup, sometimes cooked with chicken broth, is a medium in which the Chinese boil bits of beef, chicken and pork balls. Some people eat the jook by itself; some with side dishes of peanuts, pickled lettuce or slivered ginger.

Koreans could have the same meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. What makes Korean meals special is not the foods, but the ritual, where family hierarchy prevails. The eldest person takes the first dish, and then it’s passed. The meal can be as simple as a bowl of steamed rice, a side dish of pickles and a bowl of beef broth. Or it can be more elaborate, with dumplings floating in the broth, and many little dishes of pickled vegetables.

If you have breakfast in a Korean inn, you get the rice, the soup, a bit of fish, often grilled, and as many side dishes as people have the imagination to give you.

Depending on the region of Mexico, typical breakfast items may vary slightly, but often include ingredients such as corn tortillas, eggs, beans and sauces, compiled in different ways. One common breakfast item is chilaquiles — fried corn tortilla chips topped with green or red salsa (or mole) eggs, pulled chicken, cheese and beans.

In Africa, ….North Africa shares a proximity to the Middle East in both location and cuisine. While a typical breakfast in the Northern African countries of Egypt and Tunisia will probably consist of coffee or tea and a bread item (usually made with sorghum or millet), it is not unusual to see the following regional items on a breakfast plate: fish from the countries’ numerous sea ports, peppers and spices usually associated with the Middle East, bean dishes, and stews or gruels made from beans and corn. Yogurt is a popular breakfast item in North Africa, as are eggs.

“Falafel” – little deep-fried bean burgers served in pita bread – are popular at breakfast in Egypt and Sudan, as is “Ful” – a spread or stew made from fava beans also served on pita.

A typical Nigerian breakfast is deep-fried and made from peeled black-eyed beans and cooked with spices. Though typical as a breakfast, this is a great snack that can be eaten at any time of the day. It is often eaten with pap(ogi), a custard made from corn.

Tanzanian breakfasts, like many others, are kept quite light, and never without the accompaniment of a steaming cup of tea.

Unlike the Tanzanian breakfast, Ghanaian breakfasts tend to be heavier. A typical breakfast food found in Ghana is called Ampesi. This dish consists of cassava, cocoyam, yam, and a plantain mixture that’s boiled with fish and onion. Pumpuka, a second breakfast item, is made from ground millet.

Uganda : roasted plantain with grilled beef / beef stew and milky tea.

No such thing as ‘breakfast’ in India…  from ancient times, there has been no such thing as ‘break-fast’ in India. No such concept existed because the average Indian doesn’t think that by consuming food in the morning he/she is “breaking the fasting period” of the previous night, as the term ‘breakfast’ suggests. For Indians a proper fast is much much more than going to bed every night!!


There is ‘Naashta’ that is eaten in the Indian household and like many things Indian; the ‘naashta’ echoes the diversity of the country. In fact, the Indian Naashta varies quite a bit from region to region be it from Kutch in the West to Kolkata in the East; Srinagar in the North to Kanyakumari in the South. Normally naashta is based on wheat or rice with vegetables and dips (chutneys) as the accompaniment.


A typical ‘nashta’ in India varies depending on region, but is often quite similar to a lunch or dinner. A breakfast plate in India might include roti (flatbread), dosas (thin crepes made of rice and lentils) or idlis (steamed rice-dough pancakes), and different dips and chutneys, as well as spiced potatoes. It could be a dish comprising flatenned rice – poha – spiced up and flavoured.

However, when you step out of India or even in urban India today, the naashta is increasingly influenced by what I call as ‘BigFood breakfast’. The urban Indians simply follow the crowd by consuming supermarket dependent convenient foods, where boxed cereals, cold reconstituted fruit juice or coffee-in-a-hurry is the norm.

The traditional breakfast has a strong Ayurvedic influence. There are some cardinal rules in Indian breakfast – food is freshly cooked (cooked from scratch), almost always vegetarian, served warm, generally savory, spiced moderately and in small portions. There is no such thing as an ideal homogenous Indian breakfast as the authentic Indian food is highly individualized based on individual, location, availability, season.

The Indian naashta follows the principle of ‘agni’ i.e. the fire element in digestion, as expounded in the Ayurveda texts. Agni is the digestive and absorption process called as Pakwagni (digestive fire) that drives all digestion and metabolism in our bodies. So if the breakfast doesn’t kindle the digestive fire, it is not that good for the body. Spice is added to gently stoke the Agni.

Nora Isaacs, a popular health journalist remarks, “At the start of the day, sometime between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., Agni is quite low, and it’s not easy for most bodies to digest a big breakfast.” The inner Agni follows the path of the sun. The highest Agni happens when the sun is on top by afternoon. That’s when the body is ready for a heavy lunch.

Unlike modern health directives, in Ayurveda and other time-tested natural health sciences, breakfast is not recommended to be a large meal, let alone the most substantial meal of the day. In long-living groups such as the Okinawans, Vilcabambans, Campodimelani and Abkhasians, none have breakfast as the most important or substantial meal of the day. They have understood that the time when the sun reaches its peak is when we are best equipped to eat more.

Thus influenced by Ayurveda, the traditional Indian breakfast “naashta” is more of a warm-up for the body. Eating warm, fresh, well-spiced, easy-to-digest vegetarian foods is the Indian naashta trademark.


How can we incorporate the traditional wisdom of ‘nashta’ in the modern, fast-paced, morning rush-hour? Kellog’s or it’s desi-version (maybe Patanjali!!) might come up with a packaged ‘poha’ or an ‘upma’, but that is the same poison in a new package with a ‘desi twist’.

The toxicity is in the processing!

There are no short-cuts to health. You have to cook or get someone to cook! It takes 60-120 secs to fry a free-range egg in grass-fed butter, toss some chopped onion, tomato and spinach in the same butter, and another 120 secs to eat this deliciously small ‘nashta’. You can also have any leftover dinner dish as a small meal. REMEMBER – IT WAS ALWAYS SAVOURY! There are many ways to find your own work-around meals. Just use your imagination. All real food is great, anytime of the day.