Breakfast. Yummy smells of toast and coffee flowing round the house. Golden butter melting into toasty bread. Raspberry jam lathered on the top. Wafting aromas of croissants heating in the oven. Seems too good to be true. And, indeed, it is. Some stuff that smells wonderful when cooking is just that. Other stuff we need to be like Odysseus but instead of putting wax in our ears, we need to bung tissues up our noses to avoid seduction. And the continental breakfast comes right into that category.
A prime problem with marmalade on toast or brioche for breakfast, along with a cup of tea or coffee is that this particular combo is very fattening. Combining carbs – in this case in the form of wheat plus any jam or marmalade or chocolate – with the butter plus the caffeine means that our blood sugar shoots up and we then release insulin to lower it. Now insulin is a storage hormone, so the fat and carbs in the breakfast gets nicely stored away into our fat cells for future use – when food is scarce. And when will that be??? Indeed, we are never short of food unless completely penniless, and so we have no need to break into our increasingly ample stores of fat, as the size of many a belly on the high street testifies. A continental breakfast is just great if we need to put on lots of body fat rapidly. Not quite so good if the opposite could do with happening.
All this apart, there are other less obvious reasons for avoiding toast for breakfast, particularly toast made with standard British bread, or any industrially manufactured bread. Real bread remains edible for a matter of hours only. Not days or even a full week. In about 1961, in Chorleywood, a bloke named Stan Cauvain found a cunning way to speed up the bread making process which also made the bread softer, lighter and last ages. Real bread is made of flour, yeast, water and salt. Modern bread has many more really exciting ingredients – so exciting some are kept a secret on the label. They’ll certainly give our lazy livers a job to do. I have found a wonderful article about Chorleywood bread published in the Independent. Click on the link for a revelation or two. As always, the more fiddled about with something is, the worse it is for our health and the more of a challenge it becomes for us. Wheat, even in its simplest form, presents challenges for the human gut since it is a developed grass. Now animals that eat grass have a characteristic in common – a huge gut which digests the grass they eat. They are essentially walking compost heaps. When we are feeling fat and depressed, we may think we too are nothing but walking compost heaps. But this is not true. Naturally we are lean and flat of stomach. We do not have capacious guts and we do not have distended stomachs. So if we have problems digesting large amounts of wheat, which are eaten on a daily basis, this difficulty is massively compounded when our magnificent brains have come up with a way of turning this wheat into a poison.
I could grumble on about the issues of brown vs white bread. Neither wins. In a nutshell, white bread drives up blood sugar very rapidly and brown bread contains anti-nutrients that attach to such minerals as zinc and calcium so they are removed from the body instead of being absorbed. Plus both being hard to digest, even if only made from the 4 basic ingredients. Actually there is a way of eating wheat – it needs soaking and long fermentation. The whole process will take about 3 days. Sally Fallon’s fascinating book Nourishing Traditions goes into details. But even if we do this, everything that we eat needs varying from day to day at each and every meal. And that goes for chicken or green beans as well as the more destructive foods like wheat and dairy.
So the continental breakfast excels at putting on body fat, at making the belly bloat and making us hungry mid-morning so we need to eat again. This sounds good for food companies profits, for the burgeoning weight loss industry and for keeping the nation dozy. Not so good at making us lean, mean thinking machines.