Attempts to lead a long and healthy life are often stymied by conflicting advice, particularly when it comes to nutrition. A new fault line has opened up in recent years around not so much what you should eat but when you should eat. Whether to eat or avoid breakfast has proven to be a particular flashpoint.
Having breakfast has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, obesity and cholesterol in some studies.
Despite these findings, Babylon GP Dr Sinan Mir tends not to promote breakfast in his dealings with clients.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he says: “I often encourage my clients, if they are breakfast neutral, to consider skipping it.”
Dr Mir outlines six key reasons for this:
- The evidence on whether breakfast is good or bad for us is wildly conflicting. There are no true knowns in this space as the quantity of evidence is sparse, the quality of studies is uniformly poor and in some cases it is sullied by unwarranted industry involvement.
- The foods commonly associated with breakfast are often highly processed and refined. A typical breakfast of a common sugary cereal (pick your brand), toast with jam and glass of orange juice has the equivalent of about 20 cubes of sugar! The worst thing is that people may perceive some of these items as being “healthy” (they’re generally not). And don’t even get me started on the fry ups….
- Not eating a meal (such as breakfast) helps people to create a sense of discipline and mastery over their cravings and is often a powerful catalyst to other positive health behaviours eg starting exercise.
- Skipping breakfast often helps with weight loss (more than those who eat breakfast) by consuming less calories and lowering insulin – the master regulator of metabolism, and the chief hormone that prevents us from burning our excess fat supplies for energy.
- In the early journey for people to control dietary cravings, it is often easier for people to skip a meal, than to learn alot about different types of food or to radically change their diet. In this sense, it is a simple and sustainable change to eating habits that most people attune to very quickly.
- Skipping a meal such as breakfast, also known as time restricted feeding, has been shown to have anti-aging and disease prevention benefits.
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Dr Mir does quality his advice, however. “We don’t know enough to categorically recommend that people should have or skip breakfast.”
He adds: “The most important thing is to not be dogmatic and remember, neither approach is inherently bad or harmful, but form part of a wider approach to nutrition and your health.”
What does the evidence say?
Studies offer conflicting results. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found skipping breakfast was significantly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related death, especially stroke-related death.
After a person’s age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, diet, lifestyle, body mass index and disease status were taken into account, the study found that those who never had breakfast had a 87 percent higher risk of cardiovascular mortality compared with people who had breakfast every day, said Dr. Wei Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and senior author of the study.
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However, as Harvard Health explains, a “plethora of intermittent fasting studies” suggest that extending the overnight fast is indeed associated with weight loss, but also more importantly, with improved metabolism.
“Overnight fasting of at least 16 hours (which really isn’t that extended) allows blood sugar and insulin levels to decrease, so that fat stores can be used for energy,” reports the health body.
This is significant because high blood sugar levels and poor insulin production is a feature of type 2 diabetes – a precursor to heart disease.
What’s more, researchers from Melbourne, Australia reviewed seven studies looking at the effects of breakfast on weight change, and after an average study length of seven weeks, participants who ate breakfast gained 1.2 pounds compared to those who didn’t.
The researchers also reviewed ten studies investigating the effects of breakfast on total daily calorie intake, and after an average study length of two weeks, participants who ate breakfast consumed 260 calories more than those who didn’t.
These results fly in the face of the notion that skipping breakfast will cause people to binge later.
Other key tips to promote longevity
Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight – a key preventative measure against heart disease.
“Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure,” notes the NHS.
What’s more, regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level, says the health body.
Exercising regularly also reduces your risk of having a heart attack.
“The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, benefits from exercise,” explains the NHS.
Any aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing, makes your heart work harder and keeps it healthy.