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It is yet another one of nutrition’s hot button issues: eat breakfast or skip it.
And it’s a matter I’ve wondered about ever since North Americans and their erstwhile eating habits became smitten with constant grazing and snacking.
Some believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Others, like Dr. Jason Fung, author of The Obesity Code, a modern-day bible on how to fast to lose weight, says that forgoing the morning meal is a reasonable option, a possible key to health and weight loss.
This made me wonder: should I kick my morning-eat-a-thon to the curb and wait for lunch?
To help me out (I’m a reader and can ask questions for this column too, you know!), I turned to Dr. Nick Bellissimo, associate professor and director of the Nutrition Discovery Labs at Ryerson University.
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He agreed to put me through an experiment that would give me an answer.
But before we get to that, here’s what the research says about feasting or fasting right after you wake up.
Breakfast eaters are thinner and make healthier choices, some studies say. Others find no relationship between weight and the morning meal. Still more studies show that what you eat is more important than when you eat it. Nutrients control hormones, which dictate how hungry you become during the day and even what kinds of foods you desire. Eat sugar and you’ll just want more of it, the studies seem to suggest.
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Fung thinks that breakfast — a meal that, until the 17th century, according to Bellissimo, was perceived by the upper classes as an exercise in gluttony or a means for the lower class to energize before a gruelling day’s work — is superfluous because right before we wake up, our hormones gear up for the day, leaving us gassed and raring to go. He points to research that says fasting — leaving a longer time between dinner and the next day’s meal, say — lowers blood sugar and cholesterol.
I put my faith in science — and Bellissimo’s experiment. Over a few days a while ago, the professor used me as a guinea pig to test what kind of breakfast — none, a carbohydrous meal or a meal of eggs and homefries — would satiate me from morning until night and, stop me from consuming extra, unnecessary calories.
First, Bellissimo asked me to fast from 9 p.m. on three separate evenings. When I arrived at the lab in the mornings, I was greeted with a finger prick every 30 minutes for two hours to check my blood sugar — keeping blood sugar low throughout the day helps control hunger and sugar cravings, not to mention helping to control diseases, such as diabetes.
One of the days, I ate nothing. Another day, I ate a typical North American breakfast higher in refined carbohydrates. And on the third day, I got eggs and home-fried potatoes (that’s what Bellissimo calls “protein and functional carbs”).
The results were fascinating.
Skipping breakfast kept my blood sugar low and steady all day. I ate a respectable amount — not too much — and didn’t crave candy in the evening. Eating the carbohydrous breakfast — rice cakes with cheese and fruit — sent my blood sugar crashing and spiking and me on a sugar bender of cinnamon buns and cookies shaped like unicorns right before bed.
The most striking result came on the egg and potato day. I felt full, happy and made healthier food choices the entire day and consumed the least amount of calories than on any other day of the experiment.
For me, at least, the conclusion was clear. If I’m not going to eat “hero” foods like protein and starchy veggies in the morning, I’m better off waiting for lunch.
The good news is that these results are typical for people who are of normal body weight, and ongoing work in Bellissimo’s lab shows similar results for kids — obese people and those who skip breakfast may metabolize their nutrients differently, Bellissimo says.
“There’s a reason eggs and potatoes are known as ‘nutrition’s heroes,’ ” he said.
Q&Ache, a bi-weekly column addressing readers’ health and wellness questions.Do you have a question about health, nutrition, fitness or being well that you can’t resolve with a Google search? Michele Henry might be able to help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll find an expert who can answer.