The Breakfast Research Paradox

Think a healthy breakfast is best? Careful what you're reading.
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DO THE INCHES MATTER?

Another fallacy promulgated by agendadriven researchers—and interpreters of research—is the idea that subjects’ waistline circumference, and a decrease thereof, is an effective measure of whether a dietary hypothesis is correct. This idea, unfortunately, carries no meaning whatsoever unless we know the subject’s actual body-fat measurements.

When waistline circumference decreases, we could be seeing this decrease because the subject has lost internal organ mass. When your body perceives any type of starvation, one of the first reserves it taps into, depending on the diet you’re using, is lean tissue—especially organ tissue. This measurement only opens up more questions. It doesn’t provide the answer to anything.

TRIGLYCERIDES

Another research argument in favor of eating breakfast is the idea that it lowers levels of both insulin and triglycerides throughout the day. First, this is completely contradictory to several studies that have found that eating a carb-laden breakfast first thing in the morning will actually increase triglyceride levels all day and have an adverse effect on fat mobilization. 

It’s hard to say whether these results are skewed by the use of obese people without addressing each individual study that makes the claim, but with most studies, this is precisely what’s happening. When obese people are studied, they’re usually put on a far healthier diet in general, because it’s considered unethical—in most cases, anyway—to allow them to continue to be grossly unhealthy.

When you put an unhealthy person on a healthier diet that’s low in fat—regardless of whether they’re eating a big breakfast or not—you’re instantly going to see lower triglyceride levels throughout the day. Sure, they’re going to experience changes in their insulin and glucose sensitivity, but that’s not a particularly good thing, because their bodies won’t be able to use or mobilize fat for energy. The entire process is somewhat contradictory.

YOU’RE LOSING WEIGHT. SO WHAT?

Finally, we come to the ultimate agendadriven researcher’s ace in the hole: The idea of “weight loss.” The problem here is that when researchers and gurus talk about big breakfasts eliciting weight loss, they’re not addressing the type of weight that’s being lost. Studies have made this claim repeatedly for the past 20–30 years—that breakfast eaters lose more weight than people who eat the majority of their calories in the evening. But this happens because the breakfast eaters lose significantly more muscle mass than their late-eating counterparts. Conversely, the late eaters preserve their muscle, which is a primary indicator of many positive things, including overall health.

With research, everything matters. What kind of population is being studied? Are they obese? Are they sick? What exactly are they eating, and when are they eating it? When we say that skipping breakfast is contributing to the obesity epidemic, we’re putting the cart before the horse. Is that what caused the problem? Or is it because obese people are metabolically deranged and elicit results that are the diametric opposite of what you’d find in normal populations?

When you’re reading these studies—or, worse, when you’re reading interpretations from gurus—you have to read between the lines. What works for certain populations, i.e., the obese and the unhealthy, isn’t necessarily a good recommendation for healthy people or performance athletes. FLEX

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