Getting wishy washy about breakfast!

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | September 8, 2014

one-million-years-b.c.-1966-movie-posterEver since civilization entered beta testing, we’ve been pondering certain fitness and nutrition questions. If I drink just a little more of this fermented fruit juice, what could possibly go wrong? Does this animal skin/toga/dress make my butt look big? Are whole eggs good for me? (Assuming, of course, I’ve already outrun the pterodactyl they came from.) And, of course, the biggest of them all: Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

A new study from the University of Bath offers compelling evidence that it probably is… sort of… and even then most likely not for the reasons you’d think.

The standard line is that breakfast prevents you from porking out later in the day and that it helps balance your metabolism. The Bath Breakfast Project maintains that both of these claims are wrong. The study split a random group of people between the ages of 21 and 60 into two groups. One group skipped breakfast. The other did not. All participants wore monitors to measure activity level and glucose levels

After six weeks, the morning fasters did not eat more calories later in the day. In fact, their calorie intake was 20% lower. Also, their resting metabolism was no different from the morning eaters.

However (and this is a humdinger of an however) the breakfast eaters were way more active. They burned an 442 extra calories per day. Furthermore, they maintained stabler blood sugar in the afternoon and evening. Considering the CDC recently predicted 40% of Americans will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, that’s kind of huge. (And by the way, I told you so.) 

The study had a few dodgy aspects to it. The breakfast eaters were instructed to eat 700 calories before 11am, which is a massive amount of food. (To put it in perspective, a Denny’s French Toast Slam,with two slices of French toast, two eggs, two sausage, two strips of bacon,  is 780 calories.)  Also, the subjcts were all classified as “lean.” (They’re doing a follow-up study with overweight people.) But the results are still super interesting, so let’s let that stuff slide for now.

Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times reported on the study, throwing in another study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham showing that eating breakfast had no impact on weight loss. Reynolds reporting was rather apathetic, summing up the issue with “For now, the slightly unsatisfying takeaway from the new science would seem to be that if you like breakfast, fine; but if not, don’t sweat it.”

robots_androids_marvin_movieThe NYT wasn’t alone in this Marvin the Paranoid Android attitude.  I understand that the intellectual-types at The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Huffington Post are compelled to polarize against overly dogmatic statements like “The most important meal of the day,” but when you look at the research and you have half a brain, it’s hard to take a hardline stance against it. In his Huffington Post piece, all Dr. David Katz can come up with is a somewhat wishy washy, “Don’t skip breakfast, but do skip the dogma, and renounce the false gospel. I is, after all, your fast to break — as you see fit.”

If weight loss-exercise=health in your microverse, then sure, skip breakfast. Otherwise, this new study adds to a compelling list of  reasons to eat a morning meal. Of course, it doesn’t need to be a 700-calorie monster feed–and if you’re hellbent on skipping it, I don’t think it’ll kill you. But if you’re on the fence about, you’re better off with a couple eggs and whole grain toast, some fruit and plain yogurt, or whatever other healthy option you prefer.

Think of it this way. The evidence in favor of breakfast might not be conclusive, but the evidence  against it is virtually nonexistent.

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