Alex’s notes: This editorial commentary by David Levitsky from Cornell University was too good not to share. Three articles have appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently that challenge the dogmatic belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As Levitsky rightly points out,
“Of course this is true, if you are selling breakfast cereals.”
To my surprise, the three studies he refers to just so happen to have been analyzed in previous newsletters! So you should already be familiar with the results and the following discussion. But first, consider the relationship between weight and breakfast that has perpetuated the breakfast-like-a-king belief: Successful dieters eat breakfast and overweight persons tend to skip breakfast. Levensky proposes there are only three rational explanations for this observation.
- Skipping breakfast increases food intake at subsequent meals, causing overeating and obesity
- Eating breakfast increases metabolic rate, allowing breakfast eaters to stay slim
- Overweight people and successful dieters eat breakfast
Points #1 and #2 were disproven by a study that showed skipping breakfast does not result in a substantial increase in subsequent food intake but rather decreases total daily energy consumed. In terms of energy, this study also showed that eating breakfast does increase metabolic rate (except for the thermic effect of eating breakfast) but not sufficiently to counter the influx of calories consumed at breakfast. Moreover, another study showed that skipping breakfast neither increased intake at subsequent meals nor lowered metabolic rate as indicated by identical weight changes across a 16-week observation. This leaves us with point #3, which both the above studies support: people don’t eat breakfast and successful dieters believe they should eat breakfast.
Another myth about breakfast is that it improves cognitive performance. Yet this was also disproven with our third study, one that showed no consistent relationship between breakfast consumption and various cognitive and academic performance measures.
I’d say it is about time to nail the breakfast coffin shut. The first few hits came from the rise of intermittent fasting (or as Carl says, an ancestral eating pattern). Now we have solid clinical evidence that proves how over-rated breakfast consumption is. Ultimately, breakfast is just another meal that will be determined by you and your personal goals, just remember that there is nothing special about it. Finally, the real reason I wanted to share Levitsky’s editorial was because of his concluding paragraph. It is a rarity to see such a Super Human mindset in research, and the following is priceless.
“Myths abound in nutrition. Many, like the consumption of breakfast, are driven by powerful commercial interests. In the current environment in which the major nutritional problem we face is the increasing prevalence of obesity, we, as nutrition scientists, must consider the possible harm we are doing by perpetuating myths such as the value of consuming breakfast. Surely, eating breakfast adds to the quality of nutrients consumed, but breakfast foods can be eaten at lunch or dinner as well. As nutrition scientists, we have the responsibility of testing the veracity of such practices and must have the courage to speak out against such practices when necessary, even when it looks like we are taking away motherhood and apple pie. Actually, reducing the portion size of apple pie might not be a bad idea, either.”