The NYT published an article discussing the research surrounding the idea of “breakfast” and acknowledges that it’s suspect at best, and corrupt at worst.
Few randomized controlled trials exist. Those that do, although methodologically weak like most nutrition studies, don’t support the necessity of breakfast.
Further confusing the field is a 2014 study (with more financial conflicts of interest than I thought possible) that found that getting breakfast skippers to eat breakfast, and getting breakfast eaters to skip breakfast, made no difference with respect to weight loss. But a 1992 trial that did the same thing found that both groups lost weight. A balanced perspective would acknowledge that we have no idea what’s going on.
Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial that showed that eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks). [source]
Honestly, this is part of why I struggle with writing about research that winds up being in favor of or profitable to an existing brand or industry. We never know who is funding the research, and we never know who has incentive to continue to produce data that is favorable to their sponsor. In a time where people are constantly scouring easily accessible news reporting to learn how to eat and live healthier lives, journalists should be adamant about uncovering the people behind the research they’re reporting. The public deserves to have the right to know the true source.
And, while it’s fair to point out that of course the food industry would invest in research to find out how their products can and do impact the public, it’s also worth noting that negative research is suppressed, and in some cases money is poured in to stop an organization from doing any research at all.
That being said, there’s this final paragraph that I think is important for people to see and discuss.
First, the quote:
The bottom line is that the evidence for the importance of breakfast is something of a mess. If you’re hungry, eat it. But don’t feel bad if you’d rather skip it, and don’t listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers. [source]
I could not agree with this more. If you’re hungry, no matter what time of day it is, eat. If not, don’t sweat it.
However, it’s worth pointing out that many people wake up starving and need breakfast, precisely because of the previous night’s dinner.
So many people eat carb-heavy meals, especially at dinner time. If you eat fast food, and think you’re being ‘thoughtful’ by getting extra meat on your burger to help you actually fill up, the meat in fast food is often loaded with filler—in other words, carbs like bread and oats—so you’re getting less actual protein and fat than you bargained for. If you’re dining out at restaurants regularly—especially chain restaurants—the overwhelming majority of your plate is carbs. Not to mention the trans-fats many of these places still use to fry their food. Thanks to the processed food industry, your healthy fats aren’t common enough, your pasta is 95% carbs and, in fact, the overwhelming majority of the things you’re likely to enjoy for dinner are overwhelmingly carb-heavy.
Why does it matter so much? Because carbs don’t feel you up or keep you satisfied for long enough. Not enough to keep you from waking up and feeling ravenous enough to eat an entire box of cereal or several packets of sugary oatmeal.
Consider the people who only have the time for quick re-heat and eat, microwaveable meals—so little protein, so little healthy fats… they’re overeating by an obscene amount. And it’s literally not their fault.
People who eat carb-heavy dinners with not enough protein or healthy fats are the kind of people who wake up hungry in the middle of the night craving more carbs. They wake up in the morning craving more carbs, often cereal or some other sugar-laden breakfast food. In many cases, it isn’t enough to get them through to lunch without constant snacking. And, hence, overeating.
Now, I do believe that eating more meals more frequently can help people disconnect the feeling of “hunger” from the behavior of overeating. Eating more frequently can help people stave off hunger and, by extension, in many cases can stave off the overeating altogether. But those who have no issues in that department? Don’t sweat it.
If you want to skip breakfast, it’s important to understand that you’d have to increase the amount of protein and fat you eat at dinner time. Besides the fact that it’s great for your hair, skin, and nails, it’ll be great for your tummy and help you wake up and focus on things other than your food. Make sure your dinner has delicious healthy fats, quality protein sources, and lots of fiber.
Hi Erika, interesting article again. I agree with you- breakfast doesn’t have any mystical power. True, but I don’t think skipping breakfast is a good idea if you want to lose weights. We know metabolism is directly related to burning calories. If you can boost your metabolism earlier in the day then you can burn more calories. Eating breakfast within one hour of waking up in the morning is a good way to boost your metabolism early. Isn’t it right?
Great, simple read.
I do agree with you, consumers really should be aware of who finances research findings. On the issue of skipping breakfast, I believe it’s based on what a person’s fitness level is and what their goals are.
People really should take a personal lens to all this and apply what works best with their lifestyle.
I look forward to reading more of your insights.
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