One of the most unfortunate things about healthy diets is that everyone has his or her personal truth: simply put, what works for you might not work for me.
Sure, it would be much easier if there was only one way to do it, but that’s not the case here. In fact, everyone has to make their way through the ocean of arguments and advices and find their own cup of tea. Some will tell you to listen to your body and its needs and others will suggest you to subject it to a rigorous regime, yet you should know that science often provides evidence for a lot of theories at the same time.
Let’s take a look at breakfast, for example. As popular nutritional advice instructs us, breakfast is “the most important meal of the day“ and we should never skip it if we’re serious about leading a healthy lifestyle, no matter how questionable it is to dub any meal as the most important one. According to some experts, breakfast should even be the richest meal of your day. But how did breakfast gain such grandiose title? More importantly, does it truly deserve it?
Well, not really.
If you take a closer look at this issue, you’ll find out that our belief in the power of breakfast is based mostly on misinterpreted research conclusions and sensationalism.
1. Skipping breakfast and poor health
One of the most popular ways to misuse science is to interpret evidence of an association as evidence of a causation. For example, one 2013 study published in the journal Circulation found that men who skipped breakfast had a significantly higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who ate breakfast. The results of the study suggest that skipping breakfast is associated with a greater vulnerability to coronary heart disease, which can mean a lot of different things, but it doesn’t mean that skipping breakfast actually leads to higher risk of coronary heart disease. A number of other studies have reported similar results that connect skipping breakfast and chronic diseases, but they always fail to prove causality. Also, there are many types of breakfast with different health impacts, which should be taken into account when reporting results.
2. Skipping breakfast and weight loss
A group of researchers recently reviewed the literature on the effect of skipping breakfast on obesity and found a great number of studies showing a correlation between the two. Yet, they found out that many of the reports were seriously flawed in terms of methodology and objectivity, using casual language to describe their findings and including biased interpretations of others’ results. This means that the results of many of these bias-influenced studies should be taken with a grain of salt and are yet to be confirmed by other researchers.
Most studies conducted both in controlled laboratory situations and realistic situations show that skipping breakfast results in lower total energy intake over the course of a day than eating breakfast. While skipping breakfast is often associated with greater weight, this doesn’t mean that the act of skipping of breakfast causes the weight gain, nor does it mean that eating breakfast, in itself, will prevent obesity. In other words, studies have yet to provide solid evidence that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.
On the other hand, science often follows money – many popular studies are funded by the food industry. For example, Kellogg funded a study which found that having cereal for breakfast is associated with being thin, and The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence financed a trial which found that skipping breakfast is associated with increased levels of cholesterol. As you can imagine, studies like these are heavily influenced by the interests of their sponsors, and they’re not exactly rare.
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It looks like this debate will go on for a long time, but in the meantime, you should know that the famed importance of eating breakfast may not be founded in bulletproof research – the truth is that nobody knows for sure if breakfast is an absolute must or you could have a healthy and fulfilled life without having it regularly. Our advice would be this: if you’re not hungry, feel free to skip breakfast and don’t let anyone else tell you what’s the best for you!