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Science

Sorry, There's Nothing Magical About Breakfast (nytimes.com) 300

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Plenty of people certainly believe that, but according to a new report, that notion is based on "misinterpreted research and biased studies." The New York Times has run a piece authored by Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, who looked into numerous studies -- and found flaws in them -- to conclude that breakfast isn't as important after all. (Could be paywalled; alternate source) He writes: The [reports] improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others' results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others' results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad. Carroll also points out a conflict in many of such studies: most of them have been funded by the food industry. He concludes: The bottom line is that the evidence for the importance of breakfast is something of a mess. If you're hungry, eat it. But don't feel bad if you'd rather skip it, and don't listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers.
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Sorry, There's Nothing Magical About Breakfast

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:43PM (#52166331)

    I wonder if the debunkers have provided evidence that supports their position that breakfast is unimportant and can be skipped? Just because the "proof" for a hypothesis is debunked, does not automatically mean the opposite of the hypothesis is true.

    • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:38PM (#52166847)

      I have never been a breakfast guy. I am just not hungry in the morning unless (somewhat ironically) I eat a lot just before bed.

      As a matter of fact, if I do eat breakfast, I find it much harder to wait until lunch because I get very hungry around mid-morning.

      Other that what I stated above, I have never experienced any difference between eating breakfast and skipping it. I perform the same either way.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Someone who just got finished ripping researchers a new one for improperly using causal language probably should avoid absolute statements. I couldn't actually find the source paper, but it certainly doesn't sound like it was a quantitative meta-analysis. "The evidence is a bit of a mess" is a statement that could be defended with this kind of study, but that's not the same as saying that breakfast isn't important.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:44PM (#52166343)
    I typically don't have breakfast until 2.5 hours after I wake at 4:30AM and ride the express bus for 25 miles to work, getting my large skinny vanilla latte and breakfast sandwich at the cafeteria. Better to have breakfast after I'm done traveling in the morning. No risk of getting motion sickness and hurling on someone.
  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:45PM (#52166353) Journal

    Yes it does. It led Kellogg and General Mills to a bottomless pot of gold.

    • Lucky Charms are magically delicious.
    • I am not sure where the magical powers of breakfast came from.
      The most mythical thing about it is the fact that you hadn't had anything to eat usually in over 8 hours. So breakfast begins your normal eating schedule again.
      Either it being 5am or 1pm. I expect there is more problems for people who sometimes skip breakfast and sometimes do not. It isn't breakfast but trying to keep your body on a schedule.

      • That's how I see it. When I get up in the morning, I'm either hungry, or feel mildly sick to my stomach. Either way, I feel better after cramming food into me, and I think that's because it's the longest stretch without food.

  • I knew it! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Big Breakfast has been trying to get people to eat a big breakfast for years!

  • Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:47PM (#52166369) Journal

    I've been working out on an empty stomach in the mornings for years, only to be criticized by armchair specialists about how bad or impossible this is... There's plenty of reserve energy floating around the human body and there's nothing miraculous about physical activity on an empty stomach.
    You think our ancestors woke up to a fully stocked refrigerator every morning?

    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

      by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:52PM (#52166407)

      You think our ancestors woke up to a fully stocked refrigerator every morning?

      Of course not! Don't be an idiot, refrigerators are a relatively new invention.

      Our ancestors woke up to a fully stocked wooden box every morning.

    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:31PM (#52166789) Homepage Journal

      I've experimented with intermittent fasting. One of the benefits (besides weight loss) is that you feel sharper, more perceptive when you're a bit hungry. It's mind-altering, like taking a nootropic drug that actually works. Once you've tried it it makes extreme calorie restriction seem a bit more attractive.

      The medical advice we've had I think overstates the evidence by equating any hunger with starvation, which are two different things. Starvation is your body cannibalizing itself to avoid death. Intermittent hunger is a normal and benign state; it's nature's signal to get off your ass and find something to eat.

      The problem, as I like to say, is that evolution has gifted each one of us with an awesome mammoth killing machine, which we use sitting at a desk all day a few steps away from a refrigerator stockpiled with calorie-dense foods. And since we're not accustomed to normal hunger, we jump up and shove our face full of thousands of calories (surprisingly easy to do) because we think we're starving. So the grain of truth in the "never go hungry" philosophy is that if you aren't prepared for an occasional hunger pang, if you aren't going to be able to behave reasonably in the presence of unnatural quantities of unnatural foods, then you'd better avoid ever feeling hungry.

      Hunger is stress -- like exercise. When you first start a strength training regime, you probably can't imagine you're doing this to your body. But you adapt, and you can take levels of stress that would have been impossible to tolerate at the beginning like they're nothing.

      • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

        For me, after a year of trying this, I find that it is good for weight loss, but it makes me pretty damn stupid by early afternoon. Then again, I can't abuse caffeine or other stimulants (my brain chemistry is a bit strange) so YMMV

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Well of course your mileage may vary. I track everything, and I find that I only get sluggish on a fast day if my calorie intake leading up to it is low.

          But that's one of the benefits of tracking everything. You soon see patterns and can figure out works for you.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      I had to quit breakfast in my late 20's to keep my food intake down to sustainable levels for my new metabolism. As I got older, one of the other meals has started to go too. If I just eat an Apple for lunch I really don't miss anything else. If I end up eating a full lunch, dinner is really unnecessary. If I tried the 3 meal thing, I'd either be one of those guys ordering bunless burgers with no fries and a water all the time, or I'd weigh over 300 pounds within a year or two.

      If you like your 3, and don't

    • It's something I've been trying too. Cardio while fasting works OK for me, but strength training fasted is too much of a sacrifice. I like training and don't want to ruin it.

    • What are human energy reserves called?

      Seems like exercising without food intake would prompt the body to "fork over" them reserves.

  • by krray ( 605395 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:49PM (#52166387)

    I personally never eat breakfast -- during the work week.

    I'll eat a minimal lunch (always left overs = free mortgage payment per year :). Oh, wait, I don't have a mortgage anymore because I did that...

    On the rare weekend days that I do eat breakfast I'll skip lunch altogether. I'm not hungry.

    Dinner, for me, IS the most important meal -- and in many cases the ONLY meal I'll eat for the day.

    No, I don't snack either. The funny thing is per US BMI fatso rules I am considered over-weight too boot. Of course they have always said that about me since grade school. I've always ignored it all. Even my doctor looked me up and down and said, "No -- you're just fine. Keep doing what you're doing."

    • I'll eat a minimal lunch (always left overs = free mortgage payment per year :).

      So YOU'RE the one who's been stealing my lunches all this time!

    • Dinner, for me, IS the most important meal -- and in many cases the ONLY meal I'll eat for the day.
      No, I don't snack either. The funny thing is per US BMI fatso rules I am considered over-weight too boot.

      Instead of spreading your food out, you're eating it in a lump and then lying down on it. Sounds like the kind of behavior that would normally cause problems.

  • No food magic at all (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @01:53PM (#52166417)

    Any magic things you hear about food are usually false:

    - Sodium isn't bad for you (unless you have a special condition).
    - High fructose corn syrup isn't significantly different than regular sugar.
    - Aspertame has no significant health effects.
    - Fat isn't bad for you.
    - You don't have old undigested meat in your gut.
    - You don't need 8 glasses of water per day.
    - [Food item XYZ] isn't "brain food"
    - Caffeine doesn't cause heart problems
    - You don't need X servings of Y food per day
    - Health food isn't much better for you than regular food
    - Eggs don't give you a heart attack
    - Organic doesn't mean healthy. Neither does natural.
    - Chemicals are not bad for you.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      - You don't need 8 glasses of water per day.

      I always understood the logic to this to be that basically the water keeps your stomach full so you don't feel as hungry. Plus the net benefit of drinking/processing it since it has no calories.

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        I always understood the logic to this to be that basically the water keeps your stomach full so you don't feel as hungry. Plus the net benefit of drinking/processing it since it has no calories.

        It's just the artificial quantity that's usually the objection. Eight glasses? Where did they come up with that? My stomach may just be smaller than yours, so it's easier to achieve the same effects you describe. It is generally accepted that water aids your body in the elimination of waste in various ways, so drinking it is good for you. But there's no set amount ... generally speaking, if you feel thirsty you are dehydrated, so you need to catch up on your water intake (and improve your habits). Otherwise

    • Hey, you're trying to inject common sense into this discussion. Cut that out! Don't you know that doctors are "right" by definition?

    • by baboon ( 4086 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @03:03PM (#52167113) Homepage

      (I am not a doctor or nutritionist, but I read what I can and watch the whole spectrum of Netflix documentaries, from the obvious to the eccentric.)

      That's not a bad list, but...

      - Sodium isn't bad for you (unless you have a special condition).

      Sodium levels in the body can be fairly independent of ingested sodium. Some people can retain high sodium (and have high BP) even if their salt intake is very minimal. A prescription can bring that sodium down to safe values. But yes, for a lot of people, sodium intakes seems to be of only minimal consequence.

      - High fructose corn syrup isn't significantly different than regular sugar.

      I thought there was that issue where HFCS doesn't trigger the fullness response in the same way as plain sugar, provoking people to consume more. Has that been debunked now? But nutritionally, I generally treat all the "added sugars" as the same. Try eliminating all added sugar for a year and then eat an apple. They taste awesome.

      - Aspertame has no significant health effects.

      I don't eat anything that tastes awful, so I haven't even looked into it. And also, I don't trust anything "unnatural" (using my definition).

      - Fat isn't bad for you.

      In reasonable amounts. Also, I'm still buying into the whole olive oil versus crap oil thing.

      - Caffeine doesn't cause heart problems

      For some people, it can cause heart palpitations. That seems like a problem to me.

      - Health food isn't much better for you than regular food

      If "regular food" is what most people eat, then I think there is a big difference. But if you mean brown eggs versus white eggs, than probably not. The brown shells are better, though, because they're a little easier to spot in the frying pan.

      - Eggs don't give you a heart attack

      The only thing that I got from that big China study was that eggs looked pretty good and
      that eating only 1-10 servings of vegetables PER YEAR (in two provinces) was really bad. Those same two provinces were also the only places where anyone drank a considerable amount of milk and that was used for some very sketchy claims against dairy.

      Doctors tell me that ingested cholesterol only accounts for like 5% of your blood levels, so if you're doing a Cool Hand Luke on a regular basis, your probably pushing your luck.

      - Organic doesn't mean healthy. Neither does natural.

      If "organic" means no-pesticides, then I'm all for it, where I can afford it. "Natural" on the package doesn't mean anything useful and it probably will always be a junk marketing term. I use "natural" to mean anything that you could find while wandering around on the planet. Of course, then, arsenic is natural, so that isn't a good enough criteria by itself.

      I try to stick to buying food with one ingredient. It's not a perfect rule (I like vinegar in my pickles), but I think the intent is solid and it is a good mantra in the grocery store.

      - Chemicals are not bad for you.

      See arsenic.

    • While you are rightish in generalization many of those statements have specific exceptions. A good example is essential fatty acids. A key requirement for brain cells. They are also "essential" because we have to eat them - our bodies cannot make them from food that does not already contain them. The richest source of essential fatty acids is seafood and everything else has thousands of times less. So seafood really is brainfood - especially in childhood.

  • If you are going to work your balls off, you'd better eat breakfast. If you are going to sit on ass all day, you can probably skip it, unless you're hungry. You can now skip this article, and every other article like it. Tada!

    • by hawkfish ( 8978 )

      If you are going to work your balls off, you'd better eat breakfast. If you are going to sit on ass all day, you can probably skip it, unless you're hungry. You can now skip this article, and every other article like it. Tada!

      If you are going to work your balls off, you'd better have a lot of Vitamin D too...

      • by Livius ( 318358 )

        If you are going to work your balls off, you might want to also consider other lines of work.

  • ...but my personal experience speaks elsewise.

    If I sleep in I feel fine. If I force myself to get up early for work (which I do most days) then I feel groggy and not-hungry for 2-3 hours, if I force myself to eat something shortly after waking (usually a banana or prawn sandwich) I feel better for those 2-3 hours and gain an appetite for a full meal quicker.

  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:05PM (#52166521)

    I find it ironic that in an article about how imprecise and loose language led to the notion that breakfast is somehow special compared to other meals, the summary uses the term magical and the article uses the term mystical.

  • I agree; if you aren't hungry, don't eat (breakfast or any other meal). On the other hand I love something in the morning and my preference is Bulletproof Coffee. It is nice because it only contains fat and therefore doesn't get your insulin going right when you wake up.

    • On the other hand I love something in the morning and my preference is Bulletproof Coffee. It is nice because it only contains fat and therefore doesn't get your insulin going right when you wake up.

      There's also stevia, or erythritol. I like to use them together, you can buy products which do that for you but I just put them both in things. I actually prefer my coffee with just cream, which has very little sugar anyway, but if I make cocoa then I use the other stuff.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:24PM (#52166715)

    Yes, I ask the question about sleep mainly because I know of exactly zero humans who have ever managed to achieve that whole 8-hours-of-sleep shit on any regular basis, and yet we seem to survive and thrive.

    I think the whole point of driving the importance of breakfast has less to do with forcing people to eat at a certain hour, and has more to do with the fact that your body hasn't consumed any fuel at that point in roughly 10 - 12 hours, and things start to go downhill for most humans with regards to energy levels and overall alertness after a certain point of no food or drink. This tolerance to avoiding varies from individual to individual, thus no "studies" are necessary, only personal experience.

    • Yes, I ask the question about sleep mainly because I know of exactly zero humans who have ever managed to achieve that whole 8-hours-of-sleep shit on any regular basis, and yet we seem to survive and thrive.

      I have aimed for, and usually achieved, an average of eight hours of sleep every night for the past 20-25 years. (Before that I was a salaried employee and had to commute, which does make it almost impossible to get enough sleep).

      Human beings are phenomenally adaptable, and can put up with amazing deprivations while continuing to function (more or less). But lack of sleep can be more of a mental handicap than mild drunkenness, and there is a lot of evidence that it's bad for your health. Unfortunately moder

    • In her new book, Arrianna Huffington says there is. http://www.amazon.com/Sleep-Revolution-Transforming-Your-Night/dp/1101904003 [amazon.com]

      She's been doing the talk show circuit promoting the book and I thought you might find it interesting.
  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:24PM (#52166719)

    Bacon is served at breakfast more so than other meals. Magic.

  • by chipschap ( 1444407 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @02:31PM (#52166797)

    My wife, who had a long career in medicine, often says about changing ideas on what's good and bad for you, "That's what they say today."

  • Thank god, I'm usually still asleep during breakfast time, so I'll move to lunch instead.

  • to know if I don't eat something in the morning, I will be very distracted until later for lunch time.

    One thing to note is ***never*** eat melons along with other foods. If you do eat melons, have them alone then wait for at least 30 minutes before something else. A chart showing food combinations pointed this out, before I saw that my stomach never felt that great after eating melons along with other stuff especially at hotel breakfast buffets.

  • Empirical studies have shown conclusively that Lucky Charms are magically delicious.

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @03:11PM (#52167187)

    Anyone else here old enough to remember the Four basic food groups [wikipedia.org], one of which was entirely taken up by Dairy, which a lot of humans flat out can't digest properly at all? After a while (and a lot of embarrassing gastrointestinal distress), they decided that was BS and created the Food Pyramid [wikipedia.org]. The basic idea of that one was that you should be eating a metric shitload of breads. Today we call those "carbs", and these same types of people will tell you to avoid them like the plague.

    Point being that nutrition "experts" have a long proud history of being completely full of shit. They'll even admit it. But that was before. They're right this time.

    Breakfast thing being case in point. Young people should probably be fed if they are hungry, but if they aren't its usually downright stupid to force food on them. For older people this goes triple. I found with advancing age that my metabolism has slowed down to the point where if I try to force even 2 meals a day on myself, I gain weight. That's bad. Much, much worse than just eating only the 1 or 2 times a day I'm actually hungry.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      There are no set number of meals that are correct. We're hunter-gatherers. We eat when we're hungry, that's it. Everything about "three square meals" is bollocks that originated in Victorian times (along with "no elbows on the tables" - also bollocks, and not 'rude', even the Queen does it).

      Same for any categorisation of foods into groups of any numbers. Nutrition experts are paid to tell you about nutrition. Unless you die from malnutrition or throw up everywhere, it's hard to prove them wrong.

      But the

    • Point being that nutrition "experts" have a long proud history of being completely full of shit. They'll even admit it. But that was before. They're right this time.

      Actually, nutritional advice began very slowly and badly in the 18th century (and earlier), reached a pretty high level or accuracy in the first half of the 20th century, and then went all to hell in the 1960s and 1970s. Probably because of the influence of money and power.

      The first scientific research on nutrition was funded by industrialists who basically wanted to know what to feed their workers to get the maximum work for the minimum cost, without the workers dying too young or being unable to breed and

  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Monday May 23, 2016 @03:29PM (#52167305)

    Well I haven't eaten what is normally known as "breakfast" for about 7 years. (Of course, as it is technically defined as when you "break your fast", your first meal of the day is breakfast even if eaten at 10 pm). For what it's worth, I have noticed absolutely no ill effects of any kind.

    Instead, following the recommendation of a growing number of nutritionists and doctors, I eat two meals a day at approximately noon and 6 pm. That's ample for someone of my age (late 60s) and conveniently allows for an 18-hour semi-fast between dinner and the following day's lunch. (I don't count coffee with lashings of double cream, although strictly it has quite a few calories).

    The idea that you have to eat every few hours or you run out of blood sugar and faint has certainly been debunked. And anyway, it makes no sense. After a decent meal, it takes the food over an hour even to be liquidized in your stomach - before it can move on to digestion proper - and then your guts take 12-24 hours to extract most of the nutrients. So it's fairly obvious that you are getting nutrients drip-fed into your blood all that time. And indeed, it's very easy and painless to fast for 24-72 hours, because by the time the food in your intestines has been thoroughly absorbed, your body has automatically and transparently shifted to burning body fat. When I fast, I sometimes feel mild hunger pangs a couple of times the first day, but from the second morning a different (and very enjoyable) state sets in: no hunger, no indigestion, no feeling of fulness at all. It's almost as if you were without a digestive system for the time being, which gives it and you a rest. Incidentally, this is an ideal state to be in if you want to get a lot of work done without interruptions. If you can get into flow, you can work steadily for hour after hour without getting any hassle from your body.

    What most of us mistake for hunger is a conditioned reflex, which we have set up to hit us at "mealtimes". Real hunger manifests as tiredness, and may be hard to recognize at first if you are not used to it.

  • Depending on your metabolism, bla bla bla...

    The essence is: If you have a normal life cycle, breakfast means you haven't eaten anything for the past 10 hours, and probably it's not a bad idea to give your body some energy.

    Of course, if you're eating for three already, like most overweight people, you can just as well skip three days to burn some fat.

  • I very rarely eat breakfast. In fact, I rarely have an appetite until I've been up for at least an hour or two.

    When people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I generally reply that Lunch is the least important meal of the day - except when it's first. And for me, Lunch is almost always first ;-)

  • "...to conclude that breakfast isn't as important after all."

    Breakfast isn't as important as what? Lunch? Dinner? Oxygen? Jack Daniels?

Just go with the flow control, roll with the crunches, and, when you get a prompt, type like hell.

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