How good is sitting down to a plate of organic eggs, smashed avo and grilled mushrooms paired with a decent mug of petrol coffee first thing in the morning? Sounds delish.
But is eating breakfast integral to a healthy diet or have we simply become habitualised feeders?
For many adults, the message that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been drummed into us from an early age. Television commercials, government-funded food guidelines and dietitians are determined to have us believe that a good, healthy diet starts with a morning meal.
But a growing number of experts, and a growing body of research, question the validity of these claims if not reject them all together.
SO WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
Earlier this year, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine Aaron E. Carroll wrote an article for the New York Times questioning the push for breakfast in the media.
He pointed out that much of the data released in favour of eating breakfast was funded by groups, like Kellogg, who had a vested interest.
In fact, the phrase that breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’ was a 1944 marketing campaign launched by American company General Foods to encourage people to, you guessed it, buy more cereal.
But probably the most fascinating and poignant argument Carroll makes is how this research was – and still is – targeted towards children.
A good breakfast is regularly touted as being an essential part of their daily routine, particularly because it helps them perform better in school. But as Carroll points out, this research failed to take into account the general nutritional intake of the children being studied.
As Carroll noted, hunger “affects almost one in seven households in America, or about 15 million children”. So it makes sense then that kids who were going hungry at home would respond better when fed in the morning.
Carroll was also critical of studies that suggested kids who skip breakfast were more likely to be overweight than children who eat two breakfasts for the same reason – if you’re being nourished at home, you’re probably not starving at school.
SCIENCE VS PROFITS
Writing for Good Health (“the oldest health magazine in the world”) in 1917, Lenna F. Cooper stated that “in many ways, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it is the meal that gets the day started.”
Not so coincidentally, Good Health also happened to be edited by Dr John Harvey Kellogg, the father of modern day flaked cereals. To say that Kellogg had an agenda when this was put into his magazine is an understatement.
But it’s also part of a bigger picture surrounding the science of breakfast and how research can be skewed to benefit the aims of the author.
In 2013, a paper published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the literature surrounding links between breakfast and obesity. What they found was that scientists showed regular bias in their interpretation of research, favouring the notion there was a link between skipping breakfast and obesity even when no such evidence was apparent.
And only in a 2014 study conducted by Monash University, researchers found that skipping breakfast as part of intermittent fasting not only helped weight loss but also helped blood pressure and various forms of liver damage.
But this isn’t to say breakfast is bad and you shouldn’t be eating it. In fact, if you wake up hungry like those 15 million US school children then you most definitely should be eating it.
But eating it just out of habit? You can probably swap it out for an extra 30 minutes sleep.