Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper,” said nutritionist and best-selling author Adelle Davis in her 1954 book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit.
Nearly five decades after her passing she’d be delighted that many experts agree with her and promote breakfast as the most important meal of the day.
Yet according to a survey, only one in three adults eat a morning meal every day. The rest either never or only occasionally eat breakfast. Are they being sensible, or are they making a big mistake? Let’s take a closer look at what the latest research says…
Breakfasts Turn Trendy
If you want a good breakfast, it’s not hard to find. The number of dining establishments offering a morning meal has grown by 20 percent over the last four years, and what is showing up on those breakfast menus goes well beyond the bacon, eggs and pancakes of Adelle Davis’s day.
“It’s a cliché, but you know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” reports Bon Appetit editor-in-chief Adam Rapaport. “Chefs are now realizing that. They want to apply their sort of attention to detail, their creativity to this meal. And I think customers are responding.”
So, in the mornings if you’d rather feast on deviled eggs with spicy peanut salsa, refried red beans, cilantro, lime, red onion and pickled peppers, it’s available.
Breakfast Can Save Your Heart From Disease
Last year, Australian researchers reviewed four studies involving a total of 199,634 men and women aged 40 and over.
They found those who regularly skipped breakfast were 21 percent more likely to experience a serious heart problem and had a 32 percent higher risk of death from any cause compared to people who regularly consumed breakfast. Those are significant numbers!
And that’s not all, in 2019 researchers from the U.S. and Japan joined forces to carry out a similar review. This time, researchers collected the data from eight studies with a total of 284,484 participants. They found that skipping breakfast increased the risk of heart disease by 24 percent.
A research group from the University of Iowa conducted their own trial of 6,550 adults aged 40 to 75. After 17 to 23 years follow-up there were 2,318 deaths including 619 from heart disease.
After adjusting their findings to take into consideration age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, body mass index, and cardiovascular risk factors, participants who never consumed breakfast had an 87 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of death from any cause compared with those consuming breakfast every day. Wow!
But before we get overly excited about the benefits of breakfast, Krista Varady, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, reports that the findings of this study aren’t as clear-cut as they appear.
Population Studies are Flawed
“The major issue is that the subjects who regularly skipped breakfast also had the most unhealthy lifestyle habits,” she said. “Specifically, these people were former smokers, heavy drinkers, physically inactive, and also had poor diet quality and low family income.”
I’m willing to bet another factor is involved: people who skip breakfast may pig out at the other two meals. Just conjecture on my part, but it makes sense.
All those factors put people at a much higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
“I realize that the study attempted to control for these confounders, but I think it’s hard to tease apart breakfast skipping from their unhealthy lifestyle in general,” says Prof. Varady. Her criticism can be leveled at all the population studies performed to date.
Another scientist who is convinced population-based research is flawed is Terence Kealey, a distinguished doctor and former lecturer in clinical biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
He put his experience and research into a book with the provocative title, Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal.
After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he tested his blood glucose levels to find they were high on awakening and grew dangerously higher after breakfast. After ignoring orthodox medical advice and skipping breakfast, his levels would fall during the morning. Although levels would also rise after lunch and dinner, they were noticeably lower than after breakfast.
After a forensic examination of the biochemistry research in this area, he concluded that all adults — not just those with diabetes — should skip breakfast to prevent dangerous swings in blood sugar unless they feel hungry in the morning.
For those who desire or feel the need to start the day with a meal, he suggests it contain mainly protein, fat, and low glycemic index carbs like blueberries and strawberries. High carbohydrate breakfast cereals are the worst offenders and should be avoided at all cost, he writes.
I agree. If you’re going to eat breakfast, choose a healthy one filled with whole, cracked grains, fruit and/or vegetables as well as eggs or lean meat.