Start your day on the right side of the bed with a bowl of coconut steel cut oatmeal with almonds and dark chocolate. Packed with healthy, mood boosting carbohydrates, this meal is the start to a great day!
When I was in high school, the Atkins diet was all the rage. My friends did it. My parents did it. And because I was under their roof, I did it. Or, at least dinner was low carb. The rest of my diet consisted of frappucinos, chocolate chip cookies from the school cafeteria and turkey sandwiches on white bread. Still, the low carb mentality was firmly engrained in my mind and I thought all these foods were “bad.” Not because they were packed with sugar, heavily processed or unhumane, but because they were high in carbs.
The anti-carb mindset might still be in the back of my mind if it wasn’t for one day at the mall with a friend of mine. She was in the initial phase of Atkins when you’re supposed to eat less than 20 grams of carbs in a day. FYI, the minimum amount of carbs recommended per day is 100-150 grams and the RDA comes out to between 225-325 for someone eating 2,000 calories/day. So yeah, not a whole lot.
After making plans to go shopping, she asked me to pick her up because she felt so horrible she didn’t feel comfortable driving. She was so exhausted, we had to stop between each store to sit. When we stopped for lunch at my favorite Italian restaurant (in hindsight, that kind of evil and selfish. I swear this was my friend) she could only order plain chicken with a garlic sauce on the side. She almost cried at the lack of options. My friend was and still is outgoing and hilarious, one of the biggest personalities I’ve ever met. To give you an idea, the last time we hung out, she convinced our James Franco look-alike server she was a 47-year-old pediatric neurosurgeon and that I once dated Sisqo. Like I said, big personality. On Atkins, she was a shell of her usual self – depressed, quiet, lethargic and generally unwell.
At the end of the day, I came home with some cute new clothes and an unshakeable belief that carbs are a need.
When it comes to brain health, carbohydrate containing foods probably have the biggest impact. As my friend’s example clearly demonstrates, your brain needs carbs. Glucose, the breakdown product of carbs, is usually the only source of fuel the brain can use. The wrong type of carbs however, is one of the least healthy foods for the brain. Too many added sugars and refined grains cause chronic inflammation in the brain, affect stress hormones, and cause fluctuations in blood sugar that affect mood and energy levels. High blood sugar levels, even if not at diabetic levels, can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the brain which contributes to depression, anxiety and even dementia.
When it comes to carbs and brain health, quality trumps quantity in terms of importance. The highest quality carbs boost serotonin (aka happy hormone) levels without causing them to crash. Quality carbs are a source of sustainable energy. Anyone who has had a rough night of sleep or forgot their morning cup of coffee knows how low energy can affect mood.
The highest quality carbs? Fresh fruit, beans and lentils, vegetables (including starchy veg), and intact grains.
Oats are one of my favorite grains. I love a fiber and carbohydrate rich breakfast to energize my day. Compared to other grains, oats are an especially rich source of beta-glucan, a special type of fiber that helps lower cholesterol and keep blood vessels healthy. Oats also contain lignans and phenols, two phytochemicals with heart healthy benefits.
I always appreciate the ease and portability of overnight oats. Plus, they’re a great make-ahead breakfast, because we know every minute of sleep is precious! Steel cut oats are fantastic, although convenient they are not. Who has 30 spare minutes in the morning? Not I! When I found quick cook steel cut oats at Trader Joe’s, I knew I hit the jackpot. Soak these overnight in coconut milk (or the milk of your choice) and they’ll “cook” in the fridge. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, feel free to sub regular rolled oats.
- 2 cups quick cook steel cut oats or rolled oats
- 4 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- Pinch of sea salt
- ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- ½ cup chopped almonds
- ¼ cup chopped dark chocolate
- Honey or pure maple syrup for serving
- In a large lidded container, mix oats, coconut milk and sea salt. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
- In the morning, warm the oats on the stove or in the microwave for a minute or two, or enjoy cold. Top with coconut, almonds and dark chocolate. Drizzle with a teaspoon of honey to sweeten.
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