Impact of Eating Breakfast on Longevity
Eating breakfast in and of itself increases longevity. In some of the original data it was found that men who ate breakfast and did not eat between meals had less than half the risk of death of men who skipped breakfast and snacked.8 A more recent analysis of the Alameda County study data focused particularly on individuals in the 60 to 94 year old range. Those who did not eat breakfast regularly had a 50 percent increased risk of death compared to the regular breakfast eaters.9 Remarkably, in this group of older Americans, long life was as dependent on eating a good breakfast as it was on not smoking and getting regular physical exercise.
Despite these facts (and what their mothers likely told them), most people give a variety of reasons for not eating breakfast. A common reason is that they are not hungry in the morning, which is the usual result of eating a full meal in the evening. A lighter evening meal will tend to solve the problem. Better yet, if you have the resolve, try eating no suppers for a week. By the end of the week you will likely be hungry for a good breakfast. You might also find that you are sleeping more soundly, even though you may go to bed hungry for a few nights until your body adjusts. With a little planning, breakfasts are usually easier to prepare than lunch or supper. Be creative with your use of grains and be sure to have several servings of fresh fruit.
Eating Breakfast Helps to Prevent Weight Gain
Another reason given for skipping breakfast is to keep from gaining weight. Some reason that because they were not hungry in the morning, skipping breakfast would help them eat fewer calories during the day and would thus favor weight loss. This is a myth. The truth is that eating a good breakfast should be part of any weight loss program.
Years ago Dr. Charles Cupp proposed that weight gain is the result of inappropriate timing of food intake in relation to the evening sleep time. During a medical practice that spanned a remarkable seven decades, Cupp instructed hundreds of patients on his novel approach to weight control. Overweight patients were instructed to change their meal pattern from a heavy meal and snacks in the evening to a heavy morning meal, a moderate lunch, and a light supper. They were to eat their last meal ideally at noon but by no means later than 3:00 p.m., and they were instructed not to go to sleep for at least eight and a half hours after the last intake of food. Of significance, they were not asked to change their food choices nor the amount of calories they ate. Intrigued researchers in the Department of Nutrition at Tulane University’s School of Public Health analyzed the records of 595 of Cupp’s overweight patients. The results of their study are shown in Figure 7: Lose Weight by Changing Meal Timing.10 This evidence and numerous other studies indicate that eating breakfast regularly should be part of any serious weight reduction program. Note that some additional benefits accrued from eating breakfast: improved blood hemoglobin level, reduced blood sugar, and improved thyroid function.
The types of foods typically eaten at breakfast may also contribute to the importance of the morning meal for weight control. In the U.S. culture the evening meal traditionally features a fat-rich fare based on animal products, and breakfast is often centered around fruits and grains with their associated complex carbohydrates. This becomes important when we recognize that weight gain is often related to getting too many calories from fat rather than from complex carbohydrates. In the research lab, animals on a high fat diet gain more weight than their peers on a low-fat regimen—even when both groups eat the same number of calories each day.11
Breakfast and Heart Attacks
Eating breakfast has been found to have yet another benefit. Adults may be able to reduce their risk of heart attacks by eating breakfast regularly. Platelets, the body’s blood clotting cells, become “stickier” in the morning before breakfast. This increases the tendency for a blood clot to form during the morning hours. If such a clot occurs in a heart blood vessel, a heart attack can result. As expected from this physiology, most heart attacks occur between 7 AM and 12 noon. Eating breakfast can help the platelets to become less sticky and thus decrease the risk of morning heart attacks. The impact of these relationships is illustrated in Figure 8: Eating Breakfast Reduces the Risk of Heart Attacks.12
Breakfast Helps Our Mental Capability
There are additional benefits from eating a good breakfast beyond longevity. In August of 1995, the Pediatrics Department at the University of California at Davis hosted a number of psychologists, neuroscientists, nutritionists, and physiologists to review the scientific studies on breakfast. The researchers concluded that the “eating of breakfast is important to learning, memory, and physical well-being in both children and adults.”13 Good breakfast habits are essential for maximum efficiency, both mental and physical, particularly during the late morning hours. Breakfast eaters demonstrate better attitudes and improved scholastic performance. A more complete listing of the benefits enjoyed by breakfast-eating are listed in Figure 9: Advantages of Eating Breakfast.14
Note: all figures and footnote references (as denoted in parenthesis) are available in the text of Dr. Nedley's book Proof Positive.