The Studies: Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-indian-family-breakfast-cheerful-cute-enjoying-their-together-image31624692In the last couple of weeks, breakfast studies have made headlines – but if you saw them you may be wondering whether you should eat that bowl of cereal in the morning or not.

Read just about anything about eating healthfully or eating to lose weight and you’ll see “Don’t skip breakfast” as one strategy. I certainly promote eating breakfast – for overall healthful eating, for managing hunger and for helping with calorie control – all of which can help you get to and stay a healthy weight for lower cancer risk.

A lot of studies focus on how breakfast affects our eating habits and weight, because obesity is linked to increased risk for not just cancer, but heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Last week, a Harvard led study looked at whether our breakfast eating habits link to heart disease risk, regardless of weight.

The study, published in Circulation, followed 27,000 American men 45 to 82 years of age from 1992 to 2008. Dietary records were taken at the beginning of the study and every four years after. The researchers found that breakfast skippers had higher risk for Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) compared to breakfast eaters.

This link held even after the researchers took into account the men’s weight, as well as other factors that play a role in heart disease.

The other study was a two day trial with eighteen students at a Cornell lab. On the first day, half the students ate breakfast, and the other half did not. For the second day, the situation was reversed. The researchers found that the students who skipped breakfast actually ate fewer calories throughout the day than those who ate breakfast. After lunch, participants were allowed to take snacks with them and could eat as much as they wanted, but they could only eat the food the researchers provided, so it does not mimic real world situations. It’s also important to note that no high-fat and high-sugar foods were offered throughout the day.

Neither study, by itself, tells you whether you should eat breakfast or not, but these are some reasons I encourage you to stick with eating breakfast:

  1. Traditional breakfast foods can be nutrient powerhouses: dairy (milk, yogurt, dairy substitutes), whole grains (oatmeal, cold cereals) and fruit (berries, orange juice). A breakfast containing these foods will contribute vitamin D, calcium, fiber and potassium – nutrients that many American don’t get in adequate amounts.
  2. Skipping breakfast means you’ll be hungrier mid-morning and at lunch. And we are constantly exposed to food cues – food odors coming from the corner restaurant, snacks and sugary beverages in the vending machine, the co-worker’s beckoning candy dish and food advertisements everywhere you look. This constant barrage can make it tough to limit what and how much you eat, especially when you’re hungry.
  3. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found, in their systematic review of the evidence, that children, especially adolescents, who skip breakfast are more at risk for overweight and obesity. In addition studies suggest that children perform better in school when they’ve eaten breakfast. Serving breakfast at home is an important way to model a healthful eating choice for your child.
  4. Four out of five participants in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) report eating breakfast as one strategy to lose weight and to keep it off. NWCR participants have lost at least 30 lbs and kept it off for at least one year. In addition, many large studies in the US and Europe have found that eating breakfast links to a lower body mass index (BMI) in breakfast eaters compared to breakfast skippers.

If you are trying to lose weight or eat more healthfully to lower your risk for heart disease, cancer or other chronic diseases, there are many important strategies you can use, regardless of whether you are a breakfast eater or not. You can find many of these ideas in our New American Plate Challenge, AICR’s new 12 week weight loss program.

For breakfast ideas check out the New American Plate Breakfast brochure.

And in this video we show you how to make five Quick and Healthy Bento Breakfasts.

What are your favorite breakfasts?


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