To eat or not to eat… Breakfast, that is

Dueling nutrition studies– what a new concept! I wish.

Cornell University put out a press release with a shocking headline last Friday: “Skipping breakfast may be healthy way to shed weight.” What? You’ve been eating breakfast because it’s supposed to help you avoid feeling starved before lunch time?

Then yesterday, a study out of Harvard garnered this headline: “Skipping Breakfast Ups Risk of CHD in Middle-Aged Men.” You may be asking yourself, “Do I want to be thin and have heart disease, or fat and heart-healthy?”

Stop the insanity! Don’t get caught up in every headline. As a dietitian, I cannot get caught up in every headline, or in every study that is published. I have to read them within the context of the overall evidence. Why? Because one of the realities of science is that there is no one study that tells us everything, even about a single meal.

  • egg plateMost of the evidence suggests that breakfast eaters weigh less and have better diet quality overall (more nutrients per calorie, greater variety of nutrients and foods, etc). (“Suggests” doesn’t sound convincing? Scientists rarely say anything is certain, partly because we are always learning, and partly because you and I and the average Joe may each be very different in what we need.)
  • Emerging evidence suggests that eating evenly spaced meals and snacks throughout the day helps us to feel extremely hungry (which can lead to overeating) and to actually eat less overall. (“Emerging evidence”… In other words: there is more and more research to support this idea, but we don’t have broad agreement among scientists yet)
  • The Cornell study is interesting, but does not throw out all others. Let’s do more research to figure out why this one study’s results are so different from others.

When worIMG_1570king with clients who want to lose weight, I look at not only how many calories they are eating and drinking all day, but also when and how they eat, what they eat, and how they feel (hunger, energy level, mental clarity, etc) throughout the day. These are dietary or eating patterns– and they matter. I’m also looking at physical activity patterns, and a whole host of health and medical data. Only after I talk with the individual and understand their situation am I able to say, “Yes, you should start eating breakfast,” or “I see you eat breakfast. Let’s talk about the foods you are choosing at that meal.” There are a lot of possibilities. To know what’s best for you, consider consulting with a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) (same qualifications for either RD or RDN).

In general, breakfast is a good idea. An even better idea is to prepare for success (have good food in the house, plan meals and snacks, etc), eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied, and be active.

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