Want My Advice on Healthy Eating? This is the 1st Question I Ask

Somewhere along the lines, people trying to lose weight decided that skipping meals was a good idea.  Maybe it was the idea that fewer calories were better, but the advice is ill-founded.

Whenever I have a patient who needs or wants dietary advice (unfortunately, those two categories do not always go hand in hand) there is one question I ask that gives me the most information about where this patient is at on the healthy living continuum.

“What is a typical breakfast for you?”

It’s only on a rare occasion that I get an answer that is ideal.  It usually ranges from nothing to oatmeal to an Egg McMuffin.  Breakfast is something that many people think they are doing right, but most likely is a decision based on poor information from their doctor or excellent marketing.  Some less-than-ideal examples include:

  1. Skipping breakfast altogether will increase your risk of developing diabetes.
  2. Skipping breakfast will lead to higher calories being eaten at the next meal, again leading towards diabetes.
  3. High glycemic foods like bagels for breakfast throw off digestive and satiety signals and send you towards diabetes.
  4. Higher glycemic meals trigger addiction like reactions in the brain.

Here’s the rub–most oatmeal and certainly most junk breakfast cereals like Cheerios would fall under the category of “high glycemic” index foods.  Unless you’re eating the real heavy-duty steel cut oatmeal that takes forever to cook, you should be avoiding oatmeal.  Or, your breakfast cereal needs to have 8 grams of naturally occurring fiber or more.  Fiber One, for example, adds corn bran to get the fiber content up.  That’s cheating and doesn’t count.  (Even worse–ALL the Fiber One products have artificial sweeteners in them, so they’re off the list anyway).

The other option is a protein based breakfast.  Eggs, chicken, hummus, peanut butter (my particular favorite, on whole grain bread and a banana sliced on top) are good options.  There have been times when, due to time constraints, I have recommended that a patient just eat a small handful of nuts for breakfast.  It is not unusual for these patients to actually lose weight in the first month from actually adding food.

All of this brings us to this particular study.  Researchers looked at the eating habits of 26,900 health professionals over the course of some 16 years.  Here’s what they found:

  1. Men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart disease.
  2. Men who ate late at night had a 55% higher risk.
  3. Mostly, this association was due to BMI, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes mellitus.
  4. No association was observed between eating frequency (times per day) and risk.

As I sit here writing this blog post at 11 PM eating a bowl of air-popped popcorn sprayed with basil olive oil and sprinkled with garlic spices drinking unsweetened Teavana tea, #2 has me a wee bit concerned.  However, I’m pretty sure that the average late night snack is probably not quite the same as mine, so that makes me feel a little better.

Clearly eating patterns had a strong role.  The proverbial midnight snack was almost literally a killer.  Overall, though, knowing existing relationships between skipping breakfast and diabetes risk, the results of this study should be nothing more than a reminder of why you are already eating breakfast.

And, if you don’t eat breakfast, just make sure your life insurance premiums are paid up.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.