Is skip­ping break­fast right for you?

IT USED TO BE TOUTED AS THE MOST IM­POR­TANT MEAL OF THE DAY, BUT LATELY NOT EVERY­ONE’S ON BOARD. WHAT’S THE HEALTHY OP­TION? SARA BUNNY LOOKS INTO IT

Good Health (Australia) - - Content -

Whether you like some­thing hearty soon af­ter you wake, con­sider your­self a 10am nib­bler or can’t stom­ach any­thing more than a cuppa be­fore midday, you will have heard about the ben­e­fits of eat­ing a good break­fast. But with a grow­ing num­ber of ex­perts start­ing to ques­tion the hype, we can’t help but won­der if the most im­por­tant meal of the day is still all it’s cracked up to be.

To eat, or not to eat?

In Vic­to­rian times, the morn­ing meal reigned supreme, and the mes­sage was sim­ple: ‘Break­fast like a king and dine like a pau­per’. It’s a say­ing that has stuck through the ages, but ev­ery­thing from the Western trend to­wards widen­ing waist­lines to the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing has caused break­fast to come un­der scru­tiny.

In a 2013 study, sci­en­tists from New York’s Cor­nell Univer­sity looked at the over­all calo­rie in­take of those who ate a morn­ing meal and those who went with­out, and found the group who skipped break­fast con­sumed about 400 fewer calo­ries each day. In other words, un­like the com­mon be­lief that those for­go­ing break­fast will make up the calo­ries later in the day, those who opt out of the morn­ing meal don’t eat enough calo­ries through­out the day to make up for break­fast, so their over­all calo­rie in­take is lower. An­other piece of re­search, a Cana­dian health sur­vey in­volv­ing 12,000 adults, found eat­ing break­fast had no im­pact, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, on body mass in­dex (BMI).

Then there’s a study from the Univer­sity of Bath, where sci­en­tists in­ves­ti­gat­ing the link be­tween break­fast and weight con­trol have said the sup­posed ben­e­fits of the meal are de­rived from ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns de­signed to sell eggs and ce­real, rather than solid ev­i­dence.

Most of us love break­fast. It’s so in­grained in us to like it that we don’t want to hear any­thing bad about our scram­bled eggs or our com­fort­ingly fa­mil­iar bowl of ce­real or piece of toast. In a pa­per pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Nu­tri­tion, re­searchers noted how nu­tri­tion com­men­ta­tors tended to push cor­re­la­tions be­tween skip­ping break­fast and obe­sity, even when there were flaws in the re­port­ing of find­ings. Last year, Cam­bridge bio­chemist Pro­fes­sor Ter­ence Kealey went even fur­ther when he wrote an en­tire book ded­i­cated to tak­ing the shine off the first dish of the day. In Break­fast is a Dan­ger­ous Meal, the sci­en­tist links break­fast eaters with sig­nif­i­cantly el­e­vated

The Western trend to­wards widen­ing waist­lines has caused break­fast to come un­der scru­tiny

blood glu­cose lev­els, com­pared to those who wait un­til lunchtime to eat a meal. Ac­cord­ing to Kealey, this makes break­fast a pos­si­ble trig­ger for type-2 di­a­betes, obe­sity, heart dis­ease and can­cer.

In the book, Kealey says it’s not a big brekkie but a pat­tern of ‘time-re­stricted eat­ing’, that will give us sus­tained morn­ing en­ergy and sta­ble blood su­gar. In his pre­ferred eat­ing model, the en­tire day’s food is eaten within an eight-hour win­dow, and early morn­ing graz­ing is a no-no.

Ac­cord­ing to Kealey, eat­ing only be­tween the hours of 11am and 7pm can im­prove choles­terol lev­els and boost in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity, which could help to ward off meta­bolic ill­nesses like di­a­betes. If this sounds fa­mil­iar, it’s be­cause it shares sim­i­lar­i­ties with in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing, the wildly pop­u­lar diet pro­moted by UK spe­cial­ist Dr Michael Mosley.

But if each new health study has only left you feel­ing more con­fused, you’re not alone. Break­fast is be­com­ing fraught ter­ri­tory, and when it comes to de­fin­i­tive ad­vice on whether to eat or not to eat, sci­en­tists them­selves are in­creas­ingly di­vided. With strong ad­vo­cates on both sides of the de­bate and big dol­lars be­hind the mar­ket­ing ma­chine that keeps break­fast in the spot­light, how do we know when we’re be­ing fed a lie? The an­swer lies is lis­ten­ing to your stom­ach.

Lis­ten & re­spond

Ex­perts gen­er­ally agree that what­ever you choose, it should be tai­lored to your own in­di­vid­ual needs, rather than based on a diet plan or aca­demic re­search. “It very much de­pends on your age, your level of phys­i­cal­ity and your life­style,” says holis­tic nu­tri­tion­ist Danielle Roberts. “For grow­ing chil­dren, get­ting the right fuel for their brain and body is ex­tremely im­por­tant. But for an adult go­ing to an of­fice job, who feels like they don’t have enough time to eat early in the morn­ing, hav­ing some­thing a bit later might be more ben­e­fi­cial, es­pe­cially if you can eat slowly while sit­ting down, which is bet­ter for di­ges­tion.”

As for meal­times, the en­trenched be­liefs that many of us have grown up with may be do­ing more harm than good. “Think about when you were a kid and you weren’t al­lowed to leave the ta­ble un­til you’d eaten ev­ery­thing on your plate,” says Roberts. “For gen­er­a­tions, we’ve been over­feed­ing, and I think that’s why some peo­ple don’t en­joy food as much as they should.”

De­spite what you might have been told about the im­por­tance of your morn­ing meal, it’s okay to give it a miss. “It re­ally comes down to why you’re skip­ping break­fast,” says Roberts. “Not feel­ing phys­i­cally hun­gry is one thing, but if you’re com­ing from a mind­set of restric­tion, do­ing it for the sole goal of los­ing weight and de­priv­ing your­self of nour­ish­ment when your body’s telling you to eat, it’ll trig­ger the binge-eat­ing ef­fect and you’ll crave the wrong things later in the day.”

It’s a stance backed up by re­searchers at Bos­ton’s Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health, who found rates of heart at­tacks and coro­nary events were 27 per cent higher among men who didn’t eat break­fast, and put it down to the link be­tween heart at­tack risk and eat­ing larger amounts of un­healthy food later on.

Rav­en­ous one morn­ing, yet happy with only a cuppa the next? That’s nor­mal, too. Your ear­ly­morn­ing hunger lev­els can be in­flu­enced by ev­ery­thing from how much ex­er­cise you’ve done in the days prior, to the type of food you’ve re­cently eaten. “In our sleep, we tap into the body’s glyco­gen and blood glu­cose stores,” ex­plains Roberts. “If you’ve been eat­ing low-carb meals and ex­er­cis­ing a lot, these stores will have been used. In this case, you’ll be tap­ping into your fat stores, which sound good at first, but comes at a cost to the or­gans and tis­sues that de­pend on glu­cose. Red blood cells use glu­cose for en­ergy, and the kid­neys also utilise it in their pro­cesses. The brain needs glu­cose too, and although it can sur­vive on ke­tones, the form of fat en­ergy it can use, you will ex­pe­ri­ence im­paired func­tion, in­clud­ing lethargy, mood­i­ness and brain fog, and long term, it can even lead to de­pres­sion.”

The jury may be out on the sci­ence, but learn­ing to lis­ten and re­spond to our body’s cues is the best way to nav­i­gate break­fast. “It’s be­come in­grained in us to eat at cer­tain times, which has come to mean we eat re­gard­less of whether we’re phys­i­cally hun­gry or not,” says Roberts. “That’s where learn­ing to be more aware of the body comes in. If you’re phys­i­cally hun­gry, eat break­fast; if you’re not, leave it for later.”

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