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More for breakfast linked to eating less overall
You already know that breakfast is important: those who eat breakfast tend to eat more regularly and snack more sensibly, while also having better cholesterol scores and better insulin response than those who skip breakfast. Those who had eggs for breakfast reported feeling more satisfied after meals, while those who ate a high-fiber breakfast tended to eat less at lunch.
Breakfast: Correlation is Not Causality
A common pitfall in interpreting research is mistaking a relationship between two facts (correlation) with one of the facts directly causing the other (causality).
Fiber for Breakfast Keeps You Satisfied
Recently researchers in Sweden compared the effects on appetite and satiety of eating rye porridge for breakfast or a similar number of calories of whole wheat bread. Why rye porridge? When rye grains are processed into whole grain rye flakes for porridge the grains retain some of their original structure, leaving the resulting porridge very high in fiber. They chose porridge because it has a low energy density compared to the volume of the food.
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You probably already know that I am a big fan of breakfast. Research has shown that those who eat breakfast tend to eat more regularly throughout the day, and when they snack, they tend to choose healthier snacks. Those who eat breakfast are also less likely to overindulge at lunch or dinner, making it practically dogma that trying to lose weight requires eating breakfast.
It appears that we may need to rethink that.
The study I'm sharing with you today was carried out as part of a larger study called The Bath Breakfast Project (Am J Clin Nutr 2016;103:747-56). As you might guess from the name, the study compares the effects of eating breakfast - or skipping breakfast - "on energy balance and human health." This is a truly impressive study: in addition to the usual body and weight measurements (i.e., waist circumference, height), the authors also determined the participants' Resting Metabolic Rate (through analysis of oxygen/carbon monoxide exchange in the breath), measured their actual body fat using X-ray absorptiometry, took tissue samples from abdominal fat, and performed blood tests not just for cholesterol scores and glucose levels, but also for circulating hormones. The participants were further subjected to an oral glucose tolerance test - and all of this was repeated at the end of the six-week study.
All of the participants in this portion of the Breakfast Project were clinically obese - as defined not by Body Mass Index but by the amount of body fat as compared to the amount of lean muscle and bone in their body. These 23 men and women, who were otherwise metabolically healthy, were randomly assigned to a breakfast group or a fasting group: the breakfast group was instructed to eat at least 700 calories before 11 o'clock in the morning, with at least half of those calories to be consumed within two hours of waking up. The fasting group was instructed to consume nothing other than plain water before noon. Before the study started the authors carefully trained the participants to weigh and record everything they ate, and further instructed them to keep all of the packaging for any pre-packaged foods they ate for the six weeks of the study.
Their results are quite interesting: since the participants wore accelerometers constantly throughout the study, the authors could tell that those who ate breakfast were more active early in the day than those who did not eat breakfast, and those who ate breakfast also showed better insulin sensitivity in the glucose tolerance test. That's the entirety of the difference between the groups, however: both groups tended to consume about the same number of calories overall, with the breakfast eaters consuming slightly more. Neither group's basal metabolic rates changed significantly, nor did their Body Mass Index or waist circumference, while both groups' total and LDL (the bad kind) cholesterol scores went up about the same small amount.
The real takeaway here is the better insulin sensitivity in breakfast eaters. It's important for those at a clinically normal weight, but in those who are already obese, and therefore at statistically higher risk of diabetes and the health issues that often come with it, better insulin sensitivity means better control of blood sugars, less risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes, and decreased inflammation. It can't be seen in a short-term study like this one, but that better control of blood sugars could also help with weight management over the longer term. Eat your breakfast for long-term health reasons, not just because you are or are not working on your weight.
First posted: April 20, 2016