The Best Breakfast You Can Make Looks a Lot Like Lunch
A chef explains why America is doing breakfast all wrong—and gives us some tips on how to do it right.
Have you ever hit a wall at 11am or said “Fuck it,” and ate lunch at 10:58am? If so, you are probably still a good person, but you’re definitely eating breakfast wrong.
I know this because I used to start my days with a big bowl of greek yogurt and granola. It sounds healthy! You can almost picture a TriBeCa mom Instagraming this very meal with soft natural lighting from the large windows of her reclaimed loft. Through a certain filter, it looks like a healthy breakfast. And Greek yogurt is fine, but granola is basically candy, even if it has like 7 grams of protein per serving.
So, as an aspiring TriBeCa mom, I set out on quest to find a nutrient-rich breakfast that would keep me powered all the way through to lunch. My go-to power breakfast—the only thing that I knew for sure could get the job done—was a big plate with four eggs scrambled, several pieces of bacon, and some kind bread product. (This meal could also manifest itself as a bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel, which, in my mind, is the golden standard of breakfast—delicious and satisfying, without causing immediate cardiac arrest.) But you can’t just eat eggs and bacon every day. That’s barbaric.
In search of new breakfast ideas, I caught up with Chef Seamus Mullen at Tertulia, his Spanish restaurant in the West Village. Mullen has stronger opinions about nutrition than most chefs: He’s a fan of the ketogenic diet—or at least developing a relationship to food with the intention of getting the body into ketosis, the metabolic state in which you burn off fat instead of just regular old carbs. Bread, to him, is trash. Admittedly delicious trash, yes, but ultimately not useful here. Luckily, he knows other things that also taste good which won’t give you a quick burst of energy and then desert you around midmorning.
GQ: First off, what is wrong with breakfast in America?
Seamus Mullen: Oh my god. Where do we start? The problem is that Americans are addicted to sugars and carbohydrates. It’s arguably the most important meal—when you’re breaking your fast. The problem is when you eat a late dinner and possibly a late night snack, and then getting up at 7 in the morning and eating “breakfast,” we’re not actually really breaking a fast. Because we haven’t gotten into a fast yet. When you do that and the meal is high in sugar and carbohydrates, you restart the cycle where you’re on this insulin rollercoaster for the rest of the day. Breakfast cereal, for instance, with skim milk (which is higher in sugar than whole milk would be), you’re getting a double dose of sugar. That only lasts for a couple of hours. A few hours later you start experiencing the mid-morning crash and you gotta re-up again. It’s akin to drug addiction—where you need a external chemical source to maintain homeostasis.
What about a bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel? Sounds pretty healthy to me.
Totally, except for the bagel. But take the bacon, egg, and cheese and throw in some greens or some vegetables—as long as you’re taking the carbohydrates out you actually do have a really good, satiating, long burning fuel source.
How did we decide that bacon was a breakfast meat?
The guy’s name is Edward Bernays and he’s the father of everything we know of as PR. He was hired by a company to increase sales. So he got a bunch of doctors to say that having a hearty breakfast was a cornerstone of health. So the idea of bacon for breakfast was born. This is the same guy who came up with the idea of smoking cigarettes being a woman’s right, a suffrage issue in a campaign sponsored by Philip Morris.
So we’ve been duped. What other breakfast foods are lies?
Orange juice. “Gotta have a glass of OJ in the morning!” Who do you think paid for the ads in the 50’s that developed that notion? The Citrus Growers of America. Orange juice is probably the worst thing that you could have first thing in the morning.
It’s liquid sugar. There’s no fiber, there’s no slowing it down. It hits your bloodstream. If you’re totally hooked on it, get an orange and eat the orange.
What about fruit in general?
They’re delicious. But don’t make mango smoothies everyday and try to convince yourself that you’re doing a really healthy thing for your metabolism.
So if America is so bad at this, which countries around the world actually have good breakfast?
Japan. They eat broth and grilled sardines for breakfast. They might do porridge. But for the most part Japanese breakfasts are not sweet at all.
Do you ever stray from your program? Do you ever cheat?
I’m not a big fan of the cheat day. I think it’s bad for a variety of reasons. Psychologically, I think it’s bad for anyone who’s trying to develop a positive relationship with food because it implies that the rest of what you’re doing is punishment. Really what that does is promote an antagonistic relationship with food. That’s all food that’s not good for you and is going to make you feel like shit. It’s a toxic relationship.
OK, fine. But what are some good, realistic breakfast options for a hungry boy like me?
Here’s a great swap. We all know that potatoes are cheap, because that’s what chefs put on menus to make money. But what’s cheaper than potatoes is yucca. You can get it anywhere. Peel the skin, cut it in half, take the fibrous membrane out of the middle (or not), and boil it in salt water until it’s really soft. Then you can either mash it like that or pan fry it in butter. Really filling, really delicious. And it’s a resistant starch, so there’s no crash from eating it. Fry some eggs on top of that. Boil it in advance and just keep it in the fridge. Or sauté some chopped kale with onions and garlic, and then take yuca and crush it in and make a hash of vegetables and yucca. And fry and egg over the top of it. It’s really simple but it’s really delicious and nutrient-dense. Low sugar, low carb.
What if you don’t have time to cook and need to hit a diner?
Have some eggs, have some meat, have some vegetables. Just ask what green vegetables they have. Don’t be too dogmatic about it. Ask them to sauté broccoli in olive oil. Or just have a salad. There’s nothing wrong with salad for breakfast. Pair darker greens like kale or torn collard greens with crunchier stuff like romaine to lighten it up. Add avocado, some bacon, and a soft boiled egg. Toss it with olive oil and little bit of vinegar and you have a great breakfast. Super easy.
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