The Salt is a blog from the NPR Science Desk about what we eat and why we eat it. We serve up food stories with a side of skepticism that may provoke you or just make you smile.
Source: Breakfast Backtrack: Maybe Skipping The Morning Meal Isn’t So Bad : The Salt : NPR
For years I’ve been trying to convince people that the whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” nonsense is exactly that, nonsense. It is just one of dozens of things that ‘everyone knows’ that is just plain wrong. And because of that emphasis on breakfast, what’s happened is that breakfast is, instead of ‘the most important meal’, one of the most miserable and unhealthy because of our reliance on prepackaged breakfast foods like cereal that offer up tons of sugar, salt, and very little actual nutrition.
As is often the case, what ‘everyone knows’ is based largely on little more than a marketing campaign to sell you stuff you don’t need. In this case, breakfast cereals and foods. The whole ‘most important meal’ nonsense seems to be based almost entirely on a marketing campaign to improve cereal sales decades ago, and is backed by almost zero actual science. (And, believe it or not, an anti-masturbation campaign by Kellogg back in the early 1900s.)
One of the very few studies to look at this goes back to 1965 and is often referred to as “the Alameda 7”, where seven health habits were shown to be associated with physical health.
But there’s a problem with the Alameda 7 study — it had nothing to do with breakfast itself. It was looking at seven habits; sleeping, smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight, exercise and snacking as well as breakfast. Any one or any combination of those seven different factors can and do influence one’s overall health. The study never looked at breakfast’s influence on health by itself, only in combination with these other factors.
Basically there is little or no actual evidence that regularly eating breakfast does anything special for you, health wise. There is no relationship between eating or not eating breakfast and weight loss/gain. There is no relationship between eating breakfast regularly and overall health. There is nothing magical about eating right after you get up in the morning. It doesn’t alter your metabolism, doesn’t increase your calorie burning, it doesn’t… well, it doesn’t do much of anything special for you at all.
And if your usual breakfast consists of processed carbohydrates like sugared cereals, sweet rolls, high fat breakfast sandwiches loaded with salt, it’s probably worse for you than eating nothing at all.
If you’re hungry when you get up in the morning, by all means eat a healthy breakfast. Have some fruit, some non-sugared cereal. Quick cooking oats (not the ‘instant’ stuff), even some nice whole grain toast.
But if you aren’t hungry? If you’re idea of a good breakfast is an early lunch around ten in the morning, go for it.
Weight gain/loss is totally dependent on your total calorie intake versus your total calorie expenditure. Period. There is no magic about breakfast. It doesn’t reset your metabolism, making you burn calories faster as I keep hearing from people who should know better. When you eat doesn’t really matter. It’s what you eat and how much of it, not what time of day.
How was breakfast turned into what it is today, surrounded by so much misinformation and mythology?
Marketing, really. Before the 1800s there pretty much was no such thing (unless you were rich). People pretty much ate whatever was left over from the day before for breakfast, if they ate at all after getting up.
As the economy improved in the US during the mid-1800s, breakfast had turned into a full blown meal more similar to dinner. More affluent households served up breads, pancakes, lots and lots of butter, cake, pie. And meat. Lots and lots and lots of meat. Beef steak, roasted chicken.
And lots and lots of indigestion and constipation because of the lack of fiber in the diet. (Magazines and newspapers of the era were overwhelmed with advertisements for various laxatives, many of them harmful, because of it.)
Along came Dr. John Kellogg. Yes, that Kellogg, the one the cereal company was named for.
And he was… Well, there’s no pleasant way to put it. He was basically a loony, but he was a well meaning loony in a lot of ways and some of the stuff he came up with was actually not all that bad. Well, except for alleged corn flake enemas. And there was the obsession with masturbation…
But cereal, it wasn’t bad. And it did add fiber to the diet which helped with the whole constipation thing. (Although cereal did not ‘cure’ masturbation as Kellogg claimed it would. Seriously. He believed it would help prevent masturbating. He also advocated tying children up at night to prevent them from fiddling with their bits in the dark.)
Kellogg’s diet wasn’t really all that bad, nor was his cereal. It didn’t taste all that good according to contemporary reports (it was called ‘wheat rocks’ by detractors). But it did help, and people noticed.
And it launched the cereal industry which, in those days of a total lack of regulation, immediately began making wildly ridiculous health claims, which remain to this day, most of them totally unproven. Post claimed their cereal cured everything from appendicitis to malaria and everything in between, and that was one of the more mild of the ridiculous health claims made.
The whole “most important meal of the day” nonsense can be traced directly to advertising campaigns during the mid 1900s and later. And there was never any actual science to back it up. The whole notion was conjured up to sell you stuff.
It’s all marketing.
6 thoughts on “Breakfast Backtrack: Maybe Skipping The Morning Meal Isn’t So Bad : The Salt : NPR”
Food Marketers are some of the cleverest in the Industry.
They are indeed. And the tactics they use are often misleading or worse. Still, it’s better than it was. You should see some of the advertising from the late 1800s up until the advent of government safety agencies like the FDA.
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Soooo true. We get upset about it now because we expect the level of regulation that protects us in other areas.
Back then it was terrifying what sorts of things were done with patent medicines. And why everyone didn’t just die of cholera and hepatitis I have no idea.
I never was much of a breakfast guy. My morning “meal”, if that’s what you want to call it, is usually an apple or banana, a handful of peanuts, a glass of OJ, and some tea. I’m in better shape than most teenagers.
And I agree that if your breakfast is a donut and a double-double-cocoa caramel mocha grande latte (what I refer to as a “candy bar in a cup”) then yeah, you are probably better off skipping your morning repast.
Thanks for the fun post. Have a great weekend.
Your breakfast is actually excellent from a nutrition standpoint. I generally wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning (not willingly, I should point out, just the way my body works) and I usually have no appetite at all until around 10 AM. Since I’m more or less retired now, I don’t have a set schedule and I’ve settled into a routine where I don’t eat breakfast at all, have lunch around 10:30, a light snack around 2, and dinner around 5 or 6. The only time I eat something one might consider to be ‘breakfast’ is if we go out for breakfast on a weekend.
Thanks. I’d never heard about the Alameda 7 before, I’ll need to do more research on it.