Recently I read an article in an Italian newspaper that compared the Italian breakfast with those of the United States and Great Britain. Most of the information and opinions were explained by professor Giorgio Calabrese, a teacher of food science at the Catholic University of Piacenza and commissioner of the European food safety authority. He begins by saying, “First of all we need to remember two aspects usually not known to many people: with breakfast you have to introduce liquid and solid foods into your digestive system. The first puts the gastric activity into operation; the latter has the task of emptying bile from the gall bladder. The latter function has two purposes: to allow better digestion during the day and to make sure that too much bile does not accumulate, a situation that could lead to the formation of calculi in the future.”
Now let’s look at typical breakfast, first from Italy, which is made with milk, coffee, biscuits, jam, yogurt, and orange juice. Acceptable substitutions include tea instead of coffee, toasted bread in place of slices, honey instead of jam, and fresh fruit for yogurt.
The American breakfast is different. For liquids, one drinks coffee (tall, for sure), or tea. At times, milk is consumed with cereal. In place of Mediterranean orange juice prepared with freshly squeezed citrus, there is an orange juice often with dehydrated substances added. The solid part consists of bread and butter, sometimes accompanied by sweet forms of coffee cake, or other types of cakes and pies. Some Americans prefer savory tastes: cooked ham, bacon or sausage, cheese and egg accompanied by bread.
What do the English and Germans eat? The essence of breakfast in Great Britain and Germany is “egg and bacon”, substances rich in protein and fat. Moreover, the English and Germans prefer fried eggs in a pan with savory brioche, cooked with frankfurters.
So, which breakfast is better for the human body? According to Calabrese, the English and German breakfast is “a caloric shock, a terrible bomb of saturated fats, taken in the morning, at a very delicate moment of the day after the digestive system worked all night to dispose of the ‘slag’ of an abundant dinner.” With the typical Anglo-Saxon breakfast, the gall bladder recharges with bile within an hour, which causes high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood leading to greater chances of stroke, arteriosclerosis, and myocardial infarction. The American breakfast is better unless the savory breakfast rich in fat is consumed frequently, which triggers the production of insulin.
The winner is the Italian breakfast, which focuses on easily digestible foods—as almost a physiological wait for the mid-day meal. The Italian breakfast has fewer calories, on average between 300 and 400 (instead of between 700 and 1000) with the energy derived from simple and complex carbohydrates, which do not exacerbate the production of insulin, which is produced in peaks giving rise to other fats.
I have a few comments on the professor’s conclusion. First, the Italian breakfast is probably better for people who have a large mid-day meal. But for Americans who perhaps have only a sandwich or salad, the Italian breakfast is probably not sufficient for a 4-hour span. And, for those who have a tendency toward hypoglycemia, protein in the morning is critical. Calabrese says that if one prefers a savory taste in the morning, it’s a good idea to opt for toasted bread with raw prosciutto or bresaola or lean cheese. He also warns of a phenomenon that is taking hold in Italy: the pairing of cappuccino and brioche. Croissants consist of saturated fatty acids, and coconut or palm oil, or lard. One in the morning is enough.
Calabrese distinguishes among the breakfast needs of different groups. For students, he suggests the Italian breakfast of biscuits, honey, jam, fruit or yogurt, juice, cereal in the form of corn flakes, and coffee. Smoothies are rich in fiber and have substances capable of aiding in the removal of “slag” from the preceding dinner. For older folks, he recommends a similar breakfast with the addition of bread and fresh, lean cheese or a slice of ham, again lean. For the worker who has a higher energy requirement, he suggests starting the day with cappuccino, a croissant and 500 grams of fruit, adding a sandwich filled with honey or jam.
While it is important to understand what to eat, according to Dr. Oz, a famous American television doctor, WHEN to eat is equally important. He maintains that our intestines are not designed to work all of the time. It’s important not to graze and to fast for at least 12 hours during the night between dinner and breakfast the following morning.