Friday, April 1, 2011

How to Choose Smart and Healthy Breakfasts in Lebanon!

After 8 to 12 hours overnight without food, your body needs to “break the fast” and refuel its glucose for a new day. Without breakfast, your brain and muscles will not have the energy they need to sustain alert and energetic activity throughout the day. 

Now research has showed that people who skip breakfast often feel more tired, irritable and restless in the morning. On the other hand, those who do eat breakfast have better attitude towards work, better concentration, high alertness to detail, more energy, higher productivity and better ability to handle tasks that require memory, focus and problem solving. Moreover, people who skip breakfast end up getting overly hungry and making poor choices later in their day. Unconsciously, they either overcompensate by eating too much, too quick or by grabbing whatever is around especially high fat, high sugar meals in order to get “energy” the quickest way possible instead of more nutritious meals.

Most importantly is that you can make a healthy breakfast in 1 to 5 minutes tops! So giving excuses like you don’t have time or you’re in a rush to get to work/school/uni don't really work anymore. Either prepare your breakfast ahead of time (I usually prepare mine a night before, just before going to bed) or wake up 5, only five, minutes earlier!

Now that we have established that breakfast is an important part of your daily regimen and how easy it is to make one, what do you need to make yourself a health-hearty breakfast? I looked around and decided to include most of what people in Lebanon eat as a breakfast, not just typical Lebanese ideas. So after reading this list, which I divided by type of protein, carbs, fat, vegetables, fruits, sweets and beverages you decided to include in your meal, I’m sure you will never run out of healthy ideas on what to have for BF!

Protein sources to choose from!
Fresh mozzarella sandwich with fresh basil
and tomatoes
·         Cheese:
- The yellow ones like kashkawan (even in its lighter form), cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, Fondel, chevre, Gouda, babybel and spread creamy cheeses increase your caloric intake as well as saturated fats. Note that some white cheeses are also considered high in fat like boursin, halloum and Roquefort
- The white cheeses are your smarter and healthier choice. While providing you with calcium, phosphorus and proteins, these types of cheeses provide you with less calories and fat per gram! Go for double crème, baladi, ricotta, feta, fresh or light  mozzarella, akkawi, majdoule and low fat versions of spread cheeses
- Tofu cheese, rice labne, tofu labne with thyme are also new options trending in Lebanon. My favorite was rice labne mixed with wild thyme into balls and dipped in extra virgin olive oil!
* Always make sure to read fact labels on processed cheeses (if you really must have processed ones) to make sure they contain 7 % (or less) of fat and when you buy white cheeses. You can also soak them in water and change it often to decrease any excess of sodium in the cheese. I personally would recommend not having cheese or any dairy product more than twice a week + the less its processing the better.

·         Deli whether Italian mortadelle, meat cuts, pork (jambon/ham, bacon), with olives, plain, with pistachios, salami, corn beef to prepacked meats, I mean the list goes on! Well Deli is the number one source of saturated fats, sodium and nitrites! The smarter way to go around this is to go with leaner cuts of turkey or jambon light. I would prefer to skip these, you don't need extra meat in your diet, we are consuming enough animal proteins already. Don't rely on these as a quick source, especially for kids (adults aren't off the hook either)! They'll take ages to be digested, disrupt your digestive tract and putrefy it.

·         Meats: In Lebanon, some enjoy a breakfast of raw meat, like organ meats and their fat, along with kes Arak. Well I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but organ meats, besides the chunks of white fat and the fattening Arak glass, are themselves extremely high fat even if you trim the visible chunks of fat. Another type of meats that is as well very fatty and often added to eggs is awarma. Moreover, if you are having "Lahem b ajin" or kafta in public places, just know that these are extremely high fat meats as well. Usually, meat leftovers are blended with a mix of spices/herbs, you'll never know what you're eating. I suggest you skip the meat. So if you are a fan of Lahem b ajin, you can visit your nearest furn and provide him yourself with lean (habra) meat. On another hand, in Lebanon, Lahem b ajin is often accompanied with yogurt, so make sure to have it a low fat version!

Baked omelet with veggies
·         Eggs: Egg whites are lower in fat/cholesterol content, so when you decide to have yourself eggs for breakfast, choose to eat 1 boiled egg yolk with 2 egg whites. Yes, boiled and not fried with extra cheese or bacon. This will only increase your intake of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats and bulk you up throughout the day, making you feel heavy and bloated. What I usually do is either poach the eggs in boiling water and add a teaspoon of olive oil afterwards, boil the egg, or scramble it with diced tomatoes and scallion. In addition, if you have time, you can also bake an omelet with veggies, herbs or spices! I would suggest to have eggs just once per week max. Always have veggies (tomatoes, mint, cucumbers, basil, rocka, onions, whatever, on the side), easy on the salt and the bread! Keep in mind that if you are having those in a bistro, cafe or restaurant, I am more than sure than milk, butter, and creme fraiche are added to those babies. I mean just so that you know! Try to take it easy on such breakfasts, ask for lighter version of these meals and substitute few eggs yolks with egg whites.

·         Milk/ Labne/ Yogurt: Many dietitians advocate that you go with non-fat versions (0% fat). To be honest, I'm no dairy fan but if you must and you're not a high meat eater, go with the 1% to regular (3%) milk version [of course, take into consideration how much animal proteins, saturated fats and cholesterol you have overall during you day] because 1) the less the fat %, the more processed the product is and 2) fat-soluble vitamins (ADEK) need fat to be absorbed in the body >> If you are having a 0% fat labne, milk or yogurt, know that you are not getting any of those vitamins. However, if you are a meat and heavy dairy eater or if you have high LDL or total cholesterol, I would suggest the 1% dairy products, not because it is awesome itself, but because you gotta lay off those animal fats! It's still processed though yea? Your [conscious] call! Moreover, if you are not a dairy fan but need the milk to have your coffee for instance, you can try nut milk (hazelnut/almond) or rice milk (me choice!)

·         Keshek is made from labne (greek yogurt) and bulgur, sun dried and then made into powder. Now to start with, the labne used is always high in fat. Kechek is usually eaten as a part of man2ouche (baked dough) or it’s eaten in its soup form - cooked with minced meat, oil, pine nuts garlic and/or potatoes (depending how it’s prepared) & is eaten with bread. It’s actually considered a pretty heavy breakfast, high in fat, high in carbs and low in fibers (knowing that few people have any vegetables on the side with it). Therefore, having it occasionally is a smarter choice, as a brunch even better.

·         Arishe is a product made totally from milk proteins, when bought directly from the farm or when you know/trust someone who sells it. However, sadly, in Lebanon, fat is often added to it during processing because it's cheaper to actually prepare it. So it’s not my first choice for a healthy breakfast especially that honey and sugar are often added to sweeten it. 

Carbohydrate source
Make sure to have a whole source of carbohydrates. Go for 'whole grain', low sugar, low salt ones instead of 'multi-cereal' because this one could only mean 'different grains'. This way you will increase your intake of fibers!

·         Baguette/bread/toast are best eaten in their high fiber, no milk, no sugar versions. Try to avoid pain au lait and pain de mire, because one small portion is considered as 1/2 baguette and is not as satiating  so you’ll end up eating 2 to 4, equivalent to one whole loaf of big Arabic bread! Pain au lait and pain de mie (fluffy toasts) are made with sugar and whole fat milk as well. Moreover, some pain au laits are already filled with chocolate, high fat cheese, thyme or olives and thus adding extra calories to an, already, unhealthy refined carb. ALWAYS read the label, you don't want milk, sugar, additives and emulsifiers in your bread. The less, the better. Whole grain Arabic bread, oat bread or saj bread are ok - just don't have the whole pack please.

·         Kaak is pretty famous here as well. When you decide to have yourself kaak with tea or dipping it with labne, cheese, zaatar, it's best to choose finger sized whole fiber kaaks with no ghee, butter and sugar. Please read the label (takes few seconds and you'll look smart too) given that most kaak in Lebanon are made with lots of fats! 3 kaaks = 1/2 french bread/baguette. Portion control is crucial when eating kaak especially that most have them like biscuits, unconsciously nibbling them all day because someone said they're ok. Put 4-5 finger-sized kaaks and close the container away.

·         Cracottes and rice cakes are usually labeled as the "diet" foods. Well, they are healthy but if you are watching what you wat, you can go for the usual toast and breads if you're not into cracottes and rice cakes! Now most rice cakes are made from white rice, high glycemic load causing peaks in your blood sugar. I would suggest that you choose whole oats cakes or whole rice, made from whole grains obviously, to increase your fiber intake and avoid blood sugar peaks. Calorie wise, one toast = 1/2 ab3a of the big Arabic bread = 1 pain au lait = 3 cracottes = 3 rice cakes, 3 small finger like kaak = 1/2 baguette = 1/2 burger bun! Just to keep things into perspective. Of course, portion control, rice/oats cakes are not biscuits to munch on in the office!

All famous man'ouche!
·         Man'ouche is a tricky breakfast because it is practically found everywhere you go and is considered an "on the go" breakfast. To start with, know that a man'ouche's dough might be mixed with lots of oil before any baking is done. So one man2ouche's dough is at least 1 loaf of large Arabic bread (rghif), so as a start, it's lots for a breakfast. Second, it's usually made with either oily thyme in it or high fat cheese (most often mixed with oil itself). So check the cheese section to choose the healthiest version. As for thyme, it is considered healthy but watch out not to have lots of oil in your sandwich or man'ouche. And always accompany your man'ouche with veggies! One good tip to know in the man'ouche/saj industry: Not because the saj is thinner, it's considered as lower in calories, nopes! The same dough is either made into a thin saj dough or a thick furn dough, same calories! Sharing a man2ouche, asking for whole-wheat dough, having it '3al bered' = adding oil after it's baked, having veggies on the side and having it once a week is advisable.

·         Pancakes, crepes and waffles are usually made with sugar, eggs, butter, milk, flour and oil. So having them occasionally is ok (occasionally = once a month tops + I prefer they are home made and never from quick pancake/crepe fixes, those are pure crap, hydrogenated fats, preservatives, emulsifiers, genetically modified corn syrup, additives to name a few) as long as you stick to one. Try to prepare them with whole flour and skimmed milk/ nut milk/ rirce milk and have them with low fat cheese and turkey/ zaatar as a salty breakfast or home made jam/honey/fruits as a sweet one. No Nutella please!


Cornflakes with milk
& strawberries
·         Cornflakes,in my opinion are crap, are considered as meal replacements and not actual meals. It's sad that mothers believe they're doing their kids some good when they feed them these flakes. Just check the 'plainest', highest in fiber cornflakes in town, it has at least 2 sources of sugar. Other than the fact that more than 75% of corn is genetically modified, unless otherwise specified.Try to avoid these in general but if you must (I don't know why you might have to, but if you did) avoid those high in sugar, chocolate and carcinogenic colorants (please, I beg, read the label, take few seconds really). They’ll only add up the total amounts of calories and unwanted sugars and toxins to your diet. A smart way to go around this is by having plain sugarless whole fiber any grain flakes with nut/rice milk and fruit cuts. The fruit cuts will be great replacements for sugar, giving your meal a sweet, fresh and delicious taste. Experiment with fruits, add berries, dried raisins, cherries, peach or even bananas. An even smarter and healthier way around this processed food is having your own oats! 

·         Oats are kinda the new trend in town, they can be eaten like cornflakes  (I'm sorry I compared, they are better) or cooked to which you can add milk, fruits and nuts and have as a meal. So if you haven’t tried them yet, give them a shot! They're my favorite! What I do = I get organic rolled oats, boil them for 1 minute (just 1 cz I like them fluffed up) with rice milk and then add my fruits, chopped almonds and walnuts. Some love cinnamon, but it's not my favorite taste. Easy quick and can be prepared ahead of a day, it's called an overnight oatmeal!

·         Knefe is not considered a healthy breakfast, sorry. It consists of the kaak covered with sesame accompanied with either high fat cheese or achta smothered in ghee (samne)/butter and sugar syrup (ater). It's therefore high in fat and sugar, a breakfast you wouldn't want to have as a part of a healthy breakfast. And last but not least, it provides you with at least 550 calories, too much, no? Try to share it if you really feel like it and have it once every couple of month, or like I do, once every year on New Year's eve, hey it's a Lebanese tradition!

Fat
·         Olives and olive oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats, the types of fats you want to include in your diet instead of saturated and trans ones. If you decided to add olives, go for 8-10 ones or 1-2 tsp of olives, but make sure your breakfast does not contain another source of hidden fats incorporated in carbs (like in the dough of mne2ish or croissants), in proteins (like deli cuts, high fat meats and cheeses/labne/yogurt), with thyme or mixed with cheeses or mixed with vegetables. Olive oil can also be a good vehicle for ADEK, fat soluble vitamins, if you are having 1% dairy products.

·         Butter and ghee are both saturated in fats and high in cholesterol, so try to avoid adding them in food like with jam & butter or having them hidden like ghee in pastry puffs (croissants and donuts). I can't say much about those, they're a no for me.

·         Nuts and seeds are sources of good fats, lots of minerals as well as fibers. Have a handful with your breakfast, but again, watching the total intake of fat is important. They can be found in Lahem be ajin’s pine nuts, hazelnuts on pancakes, peanuts in peanut butters, mized with oatmeals, almonds in cocktails, walnuts in muffins, sesame seeds on breads and kaak, etc.

Veggies
Vegetables are and important part of your breakfast. They provide you with fibers, wide range of vitamin and minerals as well as water. Try to blend them in anything you have, not only in the morning but throughout the day as well. From lettuce, tomatoes, mint, cucumbers, carrots, rockets, radish, parsley to purslane...
·         In your labne/cheese/turkey sandwich
·         In your thyme/cheese man2ouche
·         In spinach or swiss chard (selek) pies (fatayer)
·         As a part of your baked omellete; add mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions and your favorite blend of herbs and spices

Fruits
Fresh fruit smoothie:
Fresh, delicious and nutritious
Fruits also add to your intake of vitamins, minerals and water! They can be taken as fresh juice, whole or dried/chunks in your cereal!
·         One thing you have to keep in mind is that one cup of a fruit juice equals 2 whole fruits and is not as satiating. Try to avoid pre-packed juices that are only made from lots of sugar!
·         Fruit cocktails (those served in large glass jars) are not a good choice for a breakfast. Not only does the smallest cup provide you with 3 servings of fruit, but it’s also smothered with avocado, “achta”, honey and nuts, not health hearty and light for a breakfast. Either way, you can check the fresh fruit smoothies in the beverages section, those are yum!

Sweets
·         You can have jam as a part of a balanced breakfast, just keep in mind that it is half sugar/half fruit. Have 1.5 tsp instead of a fruits occasionally.

This sure ain't healthy!
·         Croissant, doughnuts, éclair, puffed pastries and desserts that are eaten at breakfast are full of ghee/butter and therefore saturated fats, filled with chocolate/jam/cream and thus lots of sugar and are considered as refined carbs! So they are actually meals low in fibers, vitamins and minerals and actually of empty calories, those that add no benefit to your diet and keep you sluggish all day long. These sure aren't considered breakfasts!

·         Muffins. Everyone says they're healthy but I don't think so. Muffins have this healthy halo around them. Ok they could be made with whole grains, but those babies have high fat milk, sugar and butter most of the times. And they add up to 500 calories if you're aiming to have one from Starbucks! If you're baking your own healthy mini muffin, then fine. Once in a month. As a treat. No, not breakfast.


·         Sugar and honey provide you with empty calories. Now many believe that honey provides you with a healthier version of sugar but unfortunately with processing nowadays, they're considered the same. Honey does in fact have antimicrobial and antifungal properties and may have antioxidants, but this is the authentic honey version we are talking about. So yea it may me better than refine sugar, anything is better than refined sugar. So when you want to add them in your breakfast, keep in mind that they both provide you with extra calories that you don't actually need. So if you are hooked on adding lots of sugar to your coffee for example, try to decrease it gradually, 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Note that brown sugar is not a smarter choice, it's just a decoy. It's in fact white sugar covered with molasses, so yea same thing!

Beverages
·         Water is the best beverage you can have at breakfast. It is cleansing and hydrating, just what you need every morning to wash out your digestive system.

·         If you decide to make your own coffee, which I akid recommend over on the go coffees, it’s best made with rice/nut milk or 1-2% fat milk with no creamer because they are high in fat and low in calcium + decaf-coffee + 1-2 tsp sugar, if you must. Please skip those instant coffee creamers or mixes (like 2 in 1 or 3 in 1), these are loaded with hydrogenated trans fats, genetically modified sugars, generated during high processing and leading to high cholesterol and heart diseases.

·         Tea is a calorie free warm drink to have in the morning; however, it’s important to keep in mind that it also contains caffeine so it’s best to limit your caffeine intake to a maximum of 2-3 cups of coffee/tea/hot chocolate (and coke) per day. Moreover, green tea has less caffeine than regular versions.

Hot chocolate made with unsweetened
cocoa powder and skimmed milk!
·         Hot chocolate is best made from unsweetened cocoa and low fat milk/better yet, nut milk. And don't go adding marshmallows to your hot chocolate, extra pointless sugar for a breakfast! You can also go for a cold iced crushed chocolate milk shake by adding unsweetened cocoa powder to skimmed milk. Please don't dip biscuits in those too. The lightest commercial biscuit is not light at all.

·         Smoothies when made with low fat milk and fresh/dried fruits are best. However, note that when you buy smoothies and shakes on the go, they are often full of fat, cream and sugar! Even the lighter versions at shops are still saturated with creams! Blend your own, it seriously takes 5 minutes > Milk of choice, fruit of choice, crushed ice if it's summery, nuts, chia seeds, spinach, kale, anything can go in there! Blend for 5 minutes and nom-nom. It can be considered as a meal replacement though, not my best option but still it's a break from everyday's routine breakfast so it can be good, once every month or so.

So now, you have all the ingredients broken down! Here are few examples:
·         A whole wheat akkawi sandwich with olives and vegetables followed by a diced fresh orange fruit
·         One cup of almond milk + a cup of rolled oats + diced strawberries/banana/dried raisins + 5 soaked almonds
·         2 eggs omelet baked with diced mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes with 2 whole wheat toasts
·         Half thyme man2ouche with fresh vegetables and a cup of tea
·         A toast of 1 tbsp low fat labne with cucumber/tomatoes/mint and another toast with 1.5 tsp jam with coffee made from skimmed milk and decaf instant coffee
·         Multigrain crepe with light mozzarella cheese, basil and tomatoes
·         One cup of smoothie made with your choice of milk blended with fresh strawberries and bananas or 1 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa with crushed ice.

Sahtein!! Now go have yourself a good productive day!

13 comments:

  1. wow quite an exhasutive list of breakfast option you have here!!! Thanks for the cheeses i always get lost!

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  2. well written pat , I am so saving this :D

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  3. Krik thanks! We have lots of food we consider as breakfast, so it gets inda confusing for me :p Glad it helped :D

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  4. And p4ktani if you want check blood lipids and heart diseases category, there's an article "All you need to know about high cholesterol", for some reason i can't paste the link here! It's really helpful :)

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  5. eeeuf shou habyatou lal post, ktir kbir fiy kl shi

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  6. Excellent post, very informative and full of ideas; I still prefer the manoushe with zaatar! I guess I will have to get half of one!

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  7. eww this food looks revolting.. we should get pizza instead! :P

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  8. hehe yes very revolting! you can actually have a small slice of home made pizza for breakfast, i mean if you would like to, just make sure that it's thin crust, lots of tomato sauce, light type of cheese and not yellow with veggies! And remove any pepperoni or salami, seriously high in fat!

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  9. Minimum of 4-5 liters of drinking water is necessary for an average person to keep him healthy and active.

    Nutrition and Hydration week 2014

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  10. How many calories does the croissant contain?? Approximately?

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