When Lorelle Saxena, a Santa Rosa acupuncturist, meets with a client, one of the first things she asks about is breakfast.
“Food is everything,” she says frequently, urging those who don’t eat breakfast or who grab coffee and a Pop Tart on the fly to consider starting each day with something warm.
Her colleague, Deacon Carpenter, a clinical Ayurveda specialist who is one of the founders of Well Sonoma in Santa Rosa (wellsonoma.com), where Saxena’s practice is based, concurs. Both use analogies to illustrate their points.
Carpenter explains that on cold mornings, we don’t simply start up our cars and hit the gas. We let them warm up a bit. Saxena uses a military analogy, comparing the typical American breakfast of high-fiber cereal to a drill instructor.
“Put that digestive system through its paces, make it work, give it lots of roughage and raw stuff,” is how she puts the typical attitude towards our morning meal.
Schooled in Chinese nutritional theory, she takes the opposite approach, based on the idea that our bodily systems already know what they are doing.
“We should be gentle with our digestive system,” she explains, “so it will be able to effectively distribute nutrition throughout the body and move waste efficiently.”
Both recommend starting the day with easily digestible foods. For Saxena, the ideal breakfast is congee, a savory rice porridge traditional throughout Asia, where it also is thought to prevent hangovers and is thus eaten late at night on the way home from a night on the town.
Carpenter recommends kitcherie, a savory porridge of rice, lentils, and spices, a dish that is ubiquitous in India and also popular in Great Britain.
Both offer complete balanced nutrition and both are delicious, perhaps surprisingly so. And both can be a remarkably effective hedge against winter weather and the viruses that accompany it. Congee and kitcherie help us rally when we are sick and also help us maintain optimum health year round. And they needn’t be eaten exclusively at breakfast, especially during a period of convalescence. Enjoy them any time of day, whenever you feel hungry.
Carpenter explains that when we eat cold foods, our bodies must warm them up before the nutrients can be metabolized. The more energy our bodies spend on this process, the more spacey and distracted we can become. This is one of the reasons so many children have a problem focusing in school and also explains why many of us find it difficult to get started at work, especially on cold mornings.
“Winter is soup and stew season,” he says, adding that a cold sugar-laden American breakfast is never a good idea but is especially counterproductive during cold and flu season.
Both Saxena and Carpenter recommend using white rice. Saxena prefers jasmine rice; Carpenter suggests basmati. These recommendations inevitably lead to questions about simple carbohydrates, diabetes, and the superiority of brown rice. Saxena encourages clients to consider context and understand that white rice is simply brown rice with the outer hull removed.
“Context is key,” she explains, “and what we’re eating with our rice is much more important than the type of rice. While people are often legitimately concerned that white rice will cause their blood sugar to rise to unhealthy levels, eating it with soluble, fiber-rich vegetables and healthy fat and protein helps keep blood sugar stable. Being gentle with our digestive system is important, too, particularly first thing in the morning, and sometimes the insoluble fiber in brown rice is more of a challenge to our system than is helpful.”