The Frontal Cortex

Breakfast is Bad For You

Is nothing sacred? I’m starting to wonder if nutrionists are the scientific version of fashion designers, and make sure to contradict their claims every few years or so, just to stay cutting edge. Anyways, I like breakfast. Noting gets me going like a nice bowl of sugary Cinnamon Life.

Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast.

Breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day.

Such pronouncements carry almost the aura of nutritional religion: carved in stone, not to be questioned. But a few nutritionists and scientists are questioning this conventional wisdom.

They’re not challenging the practice of sending children off to school with some oat bran or eggs in their belly. They acknowledge the many studies reporting that children who eat breakfast get more of the nutrients they need and pay more attention in class.

They do say, however, that the case for breakfast’s benefits is far from airtight — especially for adults, many of whom, if anything, could stand skipping a meal.

“For adults, I think the evidence is mixed,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who hasn’t eaten breakfast in years because she is just not hungry in the morning.

“I am well aware that everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I am not convinced,” Nestle wrote in her book, “What to Eat.” (She later received many e-mails from readers telling her that they were relieved to hear it.) “What you eat — and how much — matters more to your health than when you eat.”

A few scientists go further than this. They say it may be more healthful for adults to skip breakfast, as long as they eat carefully the rest of the day.

“No clear evidence shows that the skipping of breakfast or lunch (or both) is unhealthy, and animal data suggest quite the opposite,” wrote Mattson, possibly the ultimate anti-breakfast iconoclast, last year in the medical journal the Lancet. Advice to eat smaller and more frequent meals, he wrote, “is given despite the lack of clear scientific evidence to justify it.”

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    September 18, 2006

    Data?

    I am deeply unimpressed.

  2. #2 Julie Stahlhut
    September 18, 2006

    Is it (gasp!) possible that there might be considerable variation among humans in both our desire for food and the timing of same?

    I try not to skip breakfast, because if I don’t eat (and have some coffee) in the morning, I’m a hazard on the road and a zombie in the workplace. However, I can only eat a small breakfast, unless I get up at 10 AM or later on a weekend. I know people who can’t function without a much larger breakfast. I’ve also had at least one friend who felt like throwing up at the sight of food before 4 PM.

    I’ve had to revisit my own preference for eating a late dinner because of a reflux problem, which is a pain in the arse because my ideal dinnertime, appetite-wise, is about 8 to 9 PM. (Eating much earlier tends to leave me very hungry at night, which doesn’t help the situation in any way.) I’ve also known people who were complete grouches if they didn’t get their dinner by 4:30.

    Then again, unlike most sacred things, variation is a fact. :-)

  3. #3 RobertC
    September 18, 2006

    I go dangerously hypoglycemic without breakfast (bought a $30 meter-I can hit 40 mg/dl by noon without a meal). I think people should keep track of what they eat, how they feel, and what their weight gain/loss is-also, cheap things to track like blood pressure and blood sugar. I found myself shocked at what works for me-like having a snack (Glucerna shake) late at night so I don’t wake up groggy, and starving, in which case, I eat a overly large breakfast. And, I actually feel decent, so I go to the gym. I love telling people I lost weight by having midnight snacks.

    I guess what I’m saying is that one-size doesn’t fit all, and most people are pitifully equiped by to access their own biochemistry.

  4. #4 DavidD
    September 18, 2006

    “They say it may be more healthful for adults to skip breakfast, as long as they eat carefully the rest of the day.”

    I just got similar advice from a neighbor, who says it’s not dangerous for me to be up on my roof, as long as I don’t fall off. OK.

    I started losing weight when I stopped skipping breakfast, making me less hungry toward lunch, plus if one is to get 30 grams or so of fiber in a day, high-fiber cereal and/or bread is helpful in the morning to do that. There was more to my now healthy diet than that, of course. There are many ways to be healthy, and I’m sure some don’t include breakfast, but if you’re going to use someone else’s template for living, it’s not just blind tradition behind three meals a day.

  5. #5 Sean
    May 26, 2010

    Michael Pollan speaks to this issue in his writings, namely, “In Defense of Food”. The reality is that Scientists and “experts” might know a fair bit about slicing and dicing food into its properties, but when it comes to being healthy (and happy) do anything but diet. He also takes the position that our cultural or evolutionary knowledge on eating is a much better guide than nutrition “science.” After all, for much of human existence food has been more than a matter of consuming “nutrients.” Procuring, growing, and preparing food was what we did. It was our job, our social life, our culture. Now we binge on “food products” and “nutrients.” We are fatter and malnourished, which perplexes us!

    Not to mention, we have almost completely lost sight of the social significance of food. When I worked/lived in Greece every night was spent eating (and drinking, and talking) for hours on end. Treating food as simply a matter of consumption has cheapened the human conditioned.

  6. #6 kumar
    August 30, 2011

    yes breakfast and lunch is really not important.

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