You Are Engineered to Eat Breakfast

You Are Engineered to Eat Breakfast
31 December

Should you, or shouldn’t you? The Great Breakfast Debate has been raging for more than 800 years and shows little signs of mellowing.

It’s roots date back at least to the Middle Ages, when prominent members of the Catholic Church (notably Thomas Aquinas) adopted the view that “eating too early” was a form of gluttony. People have been arguing about the meal’s merits (or demerits) ever since.

Today, much of the argument centers around breakfast’s role in weight gain.

The anti-breakfast camp seems to have logic on its side. How could cutting out an entire meal not be helpful if you’re watching your weight? But, paradoxically, researchers keep finding evidence that eating breakfast is associated with lower body weights and improved health outcomes.

For example, a 2020 review in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that “skipping breakfast increases the risk of overweight/obesity. Another recent study found that breakfast-eating is associated with lower rates of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, and metabolic syndrome.

Meanwhile, there’s a noticeable absence of evidence linking the consumption of breakfast to obesity or other health problems.

When people in the Vanderbilt study ate breakfast, as opposed to an identical late-evening meal, their bodies were better able to break down and discard fat.

While these sorts of pro-breakfast findings are nothing new, experts have often struggled to explain why a morning meal seems to do us so much good. Several new studies in the field of chronobiology — the science of the body’s internal clocks and rhythms — may provide that explanation.

“The circadian system is a kind of internal time-keeping system that synchronizes [the body’s] functions so that they work together optimally,” says Jeanne Duffy, PhD, a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This system helps prepare us to sleep and wake and digest food and have energy.”

It would be inefficient for your body to keep all its operations running at max output all day long. And so you don’t work that way. Your metabolism, energy, appetite, attention, and much else fluctuate throughout the day based on your internal clocks, which are set largely by day-night shifts in light exposure. And some of the latest breakfast research suggests that your body’s internal timekeeping system favors a morning meal (and also reacts poorly to late-night eating).

A 2019 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition identified a group of genetic variants that linked breakfast-skipping to higher body mass index. It also found evidence that eating breakfast helps regulate the body’s internal clocks. “Overall, our observed genetic correlation and MR results are in keeping with a potentially healthy role of regular breakfast intake,” the study’s authors wrote.

Even one day without breakfast caused “deleterious effects,” the study found.

Last year, researchers at Vanderbilt University found evidence that the human body metabolizes food differently at different times of the day.

When people in the Vanderbilt study ate breakfast, as opposed to an identical late-evening meal, their bodies were better able to break down and discard fat molecules. The study authors made sure that everyone in the study was consuming the same number of total calories during the day, and also fasting for the same number of hours each night. The differences in fat metabolism held up regardless of how much sleep or physical activity a person got during the day.

“The timing of meals during the day/night cycle affects how ingested food is oxidized or stored,” the study team wrote.

Finally, there’s evidence that eating breakfast may cause healthy gene-related changes.

A 2017 study in the journal Diabetes Care found that breakfast consumption shifts the expression of “clock genes” in ways that improve post-meal glycemic response and other aspects of digestion.

“Breakfast skipping adversely affects clock and clock-controlled gene expression and is correlated with increased postprandial glycemic response in both healthy individuals and individuals with diabetes,” the authors of that paper wrote. Even one day without breakfast caused “deleterious effects,” they found.

Taken together, all of this work indicates that the human body is made to eat a morning meal — just as it’s made to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Even among those practicing time-restricted eating or other forms of intermittent fasting — practices that seem to be beneficial — the breakfast research suggests that people would be better off eating breakfast and cutting off their food intake earlier in the evening.

The debate over breakfast is sure to rage on. But some of the most recent and compelling science seems to support “the most important meal of the day.”

Thanks to elemental