How many times have you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? For example, consider the following “new do’s and dont’s for your good health” “from the experts at Consumer Reports on health” (Consumer Reports, May, 2009, p. 26): “DO flatten your belly with breakfast. Adults who eat breakfast regularly are four times less likely to be obese than people who skip breakfast.”
“Four times less likely.” Consumer Report’s admonition can be rephrased as: Adults who don’t eat breakfast regularly are four times more likely to be obese than people who eat breakfast. Then, of every five people who don’t eat breakfast, only one is not obese (note that five times as likely is the same as four times more likely).
Because Consumer Report’s provides no reference, there is no way of knowing where to read this study and if it was sponsored by the breakfast-cereal industry (which would make its conclusions somewhat suspect). Let us assume that the study is factual and not manipulated or erroneous.
Is this concept valid? Is cause and effect operating here, or is it reversed? Consumer Reports gives no scientific principle involved that might improve readers’ conceptual framework—only do’s and don’ts. What kind of people were used in the study? Were the four out of five non-obese people overweight? If so, by how much? Perhaps people who are obese eat a lot late at night and, consequently, feel full when they wake up. Did the people who did not eat breakfast become ravenously hungry at coffee-break time and eat a lot of junk food? If so, is that an indictment of not eating breakfast or of eating junk food instead? Most people eat breakfast because they have been bombarded with the warning that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” What if you are the one in five who does not eat breakfast, and you have optimal weight? Should you now start eating breakfast and possibly gain weight? What about eating when you are hungry rather than at a time dictated by Consumer Reports? See article: True Versus False Hunger. To be more scientific, perhaps the study should have had the ones who eat breakfast not do so and the ones that don’t eat breakfast do so. Then see if anything changes.
A recent study, published on 7/22/13 by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), purports to add evidence that eating breakfast is important for good health. “HSPH researchers found that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those who did eat a morning meal. Non-breakfast-eaters were generally hungrier later in the day and ate more food at night, perhaps leading to metabolic changes and heart disease. The study was published July 22, 2013 in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal “Circulation.”**
Because statistical studies show an “association” but cannot prove a causal relationship, we have no way of knowing whether (a) non-breakfast-eaters were generally hungrier later in the day and ate more food at night or (b) those who ate large meals at night were, as a result, simply not hungry in the morning and skipped breakfast. It is intereting that, in the body of the study, the word associated was used fifteen times, and the word association was used twenty-three times. Yet, the report of the study was worded in a way that implies a causal relationship.
The breakfast-cereal industry knows that their products would not sell were people to stop eating breakfast, so they have a vested interest in promulgating the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Similarly, one suspects that the cholesterol scare has been a convenient way of steering people from ham and eggs, butter, and cream to cereal, margarine, and non-dairy creamer, the latter two of which are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil? (Both cereal and vegetable oil are produced by agricultural farming, while eggs, butter, and cream are produced by animal farming.)
Are the foods that most people eat for breakfast optimally nutritive? Items usually consumed for breakfast are cooked or dry cereal, milk, eggs, toast with margarine and jam, and coffee. Many people eat only a muffin or Danish pastry with coffee. Unfortunately, these breakfast items are not appropriate to morning nutritional needs. Instead, they are chosen because they require little or no preparation, quell stomach pangs (see article: Hunger Pangs), and provide immediate stimulation for a morning’s work. However, after a few hours, when the stomach starts growling and the stimulating effects wear off, more sugar, starch, and coffee are needed.
Of course, there is nutritional value in some conventional breakfast items, especially eggs, which contain high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. The calcium level of the egg is low unless you eat the shell (you won’t, but a newly hatched chick does). As nutritious as eggs are, people avoid them because of their high cholesterol levels. As the truth emerges that the dietary cholesterol of two or even three eggs per day is not problematic, new cautions emerge: “Eggs must be thoroughly cooked or you can get salmonella.” Considering the unhygienic conditions under which most eggs are produced, this warning is probably true. (One answer is to buy eggs produced by uncaged chickens that are not subjected to antibiotics, hormones, etc.) Aside from the higher nutritional value of such eggs, farms producing them are more likely to exercise better hygiene.) The main point here is not the pros and cons of eating eggs but the importance of not being susceptible to claims primarily motivated by considerations other than your welfare.
Most dry breakfast cereals are high in sugar and salt and have preservatives and artificial ingredients in them. Whereas they are claimed to be high in vitamins and minerals and have no fat, most of these cereals contain refined grains to which artificial vitamins and minerals are then added (see, for example: http://www.humansarenotbroken.com/the-sleazy-story-of-cereals-success/ and http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-foods/dirty-secrets-of-the-food-processing-industry). If you grind up some “highly nutritious” cereals, the added iron can then be retrieved with a magnet, indicating that the iron is not in assimilable (organic) form. The starch in the cereal is soon digested into sugar. True, eating cereal with milk greatly adds to the nutritive value, but the milk also contains quite a bit of sugar in the form of lactose. The combination of milk, sugar, and starch is also quite difficult to digest (see article: Principles of Combining Foods for Optimal Digestion.)
What then is the ideal food to eat for breakfast? First, it makes sense not to eat until truly hungry, which may mean having no breakfast at all. Next, if sugar for energy is desired, then fresh fruit in whole form should be eaten, taking care to chew it very slowly and thoroughly. This meal will be digested fast, and, soon after, your stomach will empty and should be comfortable in that state. The concept of food “sticking to your ribs” is based more on delaying the discomfort experienced when an irritated stomach empties and its walls rub on each other. If your stomach is in healthy condition—and it will gradually heal if you let it—you shouldn’t experience a sensation of hunger when it empties but, instead, a feeling of comfort.
If you are used to eating the conventional breakfast, at first, merely become aware of everything just discussed, and determine the truth of it for yourself. If you attempt a change, do not be discouraged if your body rebels. It takes a while to re-educate the body, but results will gradually and naturally appear.
Please keep in mind that the needs of growing children are different from those of adults; whereas for a child, eating a nutritious breakfast is essential, for an adult, eating a nutritious breakfast may not always be a good idea.
*Adapted from Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.
©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow
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