- Here we go again, another breakfast scare story
- But is it true? Does it all add up? I’ll explain why not
- How to re-programme your eating habits to reduce cravings and lose weight
Call me a cantankerous middle-aged man – and many do…
But I like to cook alone.
I stick some good music on in the kitchen, then get chopping and boiling and whatever-ing in peace.
The worst thing is when someone says ‘Can I help?’ – and they actually MEAN it (rather than assuaging their own guilt for sitting in the living room doing nothing).
Next thing you know, you’re spending most of the time telling the person which cupboard the pots are in, where the knives are, and how small you want the carrots diced.
It’s like when my kids were younger and they offered to help me cook, thereby extending the process by an hour and resulting in one of us bursting into tears (sometimes me).
What I’m saying is…
Sometimes help is NOT helpful.
This goes for a lot of health news, too.
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An article will appear with new research that’s supposed to give you guidance on living a better life… but all it does is make things more complicated and confusing.
For instance, last week I told you about the DANGER BACON scare, and how “even small amounts of red and processed meat – such as a rasher of bacon a day – can increase the risk of bowel cancer” according to the BBC.
I explained that the stats weren’t as terrifying as they seemed, and that the issue was actually much more complex.
Well, the same week as I wrote that letter, another breakfast based scare story hit the headlines.
Why skipping breakfast is “disastrous” for your heart…
(Or is it?)
This time it was about a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which concluded that skipping breakfast could have “disastrous effects” for your heart.
Researchers from the University of Iowa used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included 6,550 adults. Of those subjects:
59% had breakfast every morning
25% ate breakfast occasionally
11% rarely ate it
5% never ate breakfast
Those who missed breakfast altogether had an 87% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who regularly ate breakfast.
The research connected the missing of breakfast with higher blood pressure and overeating later in the day because of increased appetite.
So you might think that this is a helpful new contribution to our knowledge of healthy living.
But it’s actually unhelpful. Because, yet again, I must point out a few things:
Firstly, it was only the group who never had breakfast (5%) implicated in this 87% greater risk statistic. So the idea that skipping breakfast occasionally is “disastrous” just isn’t correct.
Secondly, there was only an “association” between the missing of breakfast and heart disease, not a direct link. In other words, it’s not a “cause”.
Thirdly, it didn’t look at what the subjects ate for breakfast, which could have ranged from toast and jam to avocados to bacon and eggs to Danish pastries and croissants.
And this final issue is important…
As I said last week, carbohydrate-rich breakfasts are bad for us. They lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, with bigger food cravings later in the day.
And while this new study is trumpeted as a helpful confirmation that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, this might not be the case at all.
Because here’s the opposing view…
Why skipping breakfast is actually OK
In a book called Breakfast Is a Dangerous Meal, biochemist Terence Kealey argues the food industry has used flawed studies to encourage us to eat breakfast.
After all there’s big money to be made from cereals, breads and morning goodies like croissants and Danish pastries.
You’re often told that eating any kind of breakfast is healthier than no breakfast at all.
But Kealey insists that eating NOTHING for breakfast is often preferable to what most of us eat.
If you are hungry, he says, then try a bowl of fruit or even a modest fry-up without carbs like toast.
It’s a complete contradiction to the Uni of Iowa study, but think of it this way.
Did our ancestors eat regularly every three hours? No, quite the opposite. We evolved to eat whenever we found food, and then survive for many hours without it. However, in the 21st Century our brains trick us into feeling hungry every three hours because we know food is always available.
Some studies have found that skipping meals can boost your brain power, increase confidence, lift your mood and help you lose weight.
Researchers have found that occasional fasting can:
Boost levels of catecholamines in your brain helping you feel happier. It also increases the number of brain cells.
Cause something known as neuronal autophagy, where your brain cells recycle waste materials and repair themselves.
Raise levels of a protein known as BNF which interacts with parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Rewire your brain so that a short period of not eating becomes pleasurable, helping you diet.
Turn self-control into a habit.
As the Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan says: ‘The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.’
If you want to try fasting, the most popular options are:
Leangains protocol – fast for 16 hours each day. To do this, only eat in a period of 8-10 hours then stop. For instance, a meal at 8am, anther at 12pm and another just before 4pm. Then stop and don’t eat until 8am. Or eat a meal at 8pm then simply skip breakfast and eat again at midday.
The 5:2 Method – eat normally for five days in the week, but on two separate days only eat 600 calories (men) and 500 calories (women).
The 24-hour fast – choose one day a week in which you don’t eat. You can drink coffee, tea, juices and water but that’s it.
However, please be responsible. My advice is to talk to a doctor if you have any worries about an underlying medical condition like diabetes and also any history of psychological issues related to food.