Hearty lunch not breakfast king of meals

Here's why hearty breakfast stands to lose its 'star meal' status to wholesome lunch

You have been told for long to 'eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper' for optimum health. You may want to give your diet chart an overhaul. It is argued that the concept of 'eating breakfast like a king' was coined by the profit-driven cereal industry. "It had nothing to do with health, or the need of the body," says nutritionist Anju Venkat. "Our body cycle comprises three functions — appropriation, digestion and elimination — for maintaining life. These three functions, which work in eight-hour cycles, are constantly going on in the body."

Natural functions
Here is how the founder of Worli's Health Awareness Centre explains the body's cycle: noon to 8 pm is for digestion. This is the time to eat, so that the body can most efficiently break it down into nutrients. The time between 8 pm and 4 am is for assimilation/ absorption — when the body does its building and repair work. "This is the time when nutrients received during the day are utilised to make new cells and tissues. This is the time to rest or sleep, (and certainly not eat) since the body is hard at work anyway," adds Venkat.

And, between 4 am and noon it is time for elimination. "At this time, the body is getting rid of the waste debris. All that the body cannot utilise is thrown out," says Venkat. "The best time to eat foods that take time to digest (cooked food) is between noon and 8 pm."

Prescribed by tradition
For centuries, Ayurveda has prescribed different norms for dincharya (daily regimen) and ratricharya (night regimen). "These norms are based on an approach to keep the balance between the biosphere, as represented by the body, with that of cosmic-sphere, represented by the movement of sun, moon and the air. The cosmic phenomenon is functionally represented in human body in terms of vaat (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth)," explains Dadar-based Ayurvedic physician Dr Narendra Bhatt. According to Bhatt, the digestive fire is associated with the pitta constitution, which is related to the sun. So that is the time when a full meal will be optimally digested — when the sun is the strongest.

Hard to digest
A full meal, like a cheese omelette along with butter toast, with side vegetables, occasionally sausages, in the first quarter of the day, is hard to digest for the body. Venkat says, "Milk, for instance, takes six hours, a cheese omelette with toast takes 36 hours, and a cup of tea or coffee takes 24 hours to digest."

She adds, "When we eat the wrong food at the wrong time and in the wrong combination, digestion gets prolonged and functions of cleaning and repair slow down too."

The ideal first meal
Since fruits are pre-digested and supply the body with enough nutrition, they can be consumed in any quantity and at any time. They can be in the form of whole fruit, fresh fruit juice, fruit pulp or dried fruits. Aside from their high water content (needed for cleansing), Venkat points out that fruits leave no acidic residue in the body and demand zero energy for digestion. This makes them an ideal meal for mornings, when the body is in cleansing mode.

Having cereals for breakfast is not a good idea, warns registered dietician Pooja Singhania, as they are carbohydrate rich with very little fibre and protein. "The food industry has indeed cashed-in on claims about importance of breakfast," says Singhania. "Cereals like corn flakes are processed grains, loaded with sugar, sodium and artificial flavours and have little fibre and protein. Moreover, the ironfortified cereals discourage absorption of calcium from milk," she says.

Minimally processed foods in the form of chapatti, theplas, idli, contain higher nutritive value and make for a healthy breakfast.

"However, with our urban lifestyle where the day begins and stretches late into the evening, it is better to have a slightly fulfilling meal like poha for breakfast, followed by a wholesome lunch and a light dinner," says Dr Bhatt.



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