A Sugary Breakfast Can Increase Stress

Why your morning cereal could make your day worse
breakfast cereal with stress spelled out
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Breakfast is the perfect time to combat the stress we face throughout the day because we can use it to optimize our morning spike in cortisol. Cortisol is a life-sustaining stress hormone released by your adrenal glands. It follows a diurnal pattern, usually peaking at 8am, and reaching its lowest right around 4am. For this reason, it is important to look at how our food choices can affect the release of cortisol so that we can try to support a natural, healthy, rhythm.

Morning cortisol and breakfast time 

Your morning wake up call should be a cortisol spike. This necessary evil signals the body to get in motion. While it is vital for cortisol to be released during times of stress, it is also crucial that it returns to normal levels. In our high stress culture, the stress response is activated frequently and our body often doesn’t have the chance to bring it back down to a normal level in order to maintain its diurnal rhythm.

Eating a nutrient-dense breakfast helps to reduce the cortisol levels in your blood, getting it back to its normal level. Skipping breakfast or eating one high in sugar both lead to your adrenals drowning your cells in cortisol. This is because low blood sugar, such as that which results from not eating, is perceived as a stress because it can be deadly, leading to the release of cortisol. When you consume something that is high in sugar, such as cereal, it leads to reactive hypoglycemia, the crash from high blood sugar levels to extremely low blood sugar levels. If you find you are reaching for that box of cereal in the morning, think again! That choice will leave your cortisol levels high throughout the day, disrupting your body’s natural diurnal rhythm and it will find you wallowing in stress.

Protein pick-me-up 

In more bad news, what if I told you that leaving protein out of your breakfast routine may contribute to an increase in body fat? By having a high-protein breakfast, you are keeping your blood sugar levels regulated, thus keeping your cortisol levels at a low level. High levels of cortisol aggravated by early morning carbohydrates and sugar causes the body to store fat. Keep in mind that meals high in carbohydrates and sugars also decrease brain function, leaving you feeling sluggish. You’re eating breakfast so that you and your family can have a productive day ahead, so make sure what you’re putting in it fuels the fire and does not simply douse the flames. One of the most important habits you can have is the routine you design around breakfast!

Get the right light

In addition to these dietary changes to help keep your cortisol levels balanced, try to get 30 minutes of sunlight in the morning hours (ideally within an hour of waking) and avoid blue light (laptops, TV screens, mobile phones) before bed, as light also impacts your body’s ability to communicate effectively via appropriate hormonal signaling. Getting good rest is key for stress management!

Remember that while a few cereals are lower in sugar, they are rarely a good source of a complete breakfast on their own. Try some of these better breakfast recipes to make your mornings the best jumping off point for low-stress days!

*Originally published June 2, 2016