Dr Suzie Edge on 21st century nutrition and health

As (IF) we should be eating breakfast.

As (IF) we should be eating breakfast.

Bottom line: the body could use more time off eating to lower insulin and to use its own stored fats for energy.

Remember when we were growing up we might occasionally have had “a snack”? It was a cheeky stop between meals for something yummy but it wasn’t a meal time. There wasn’t a meal called “snack” and yet when my children started nursery a few years ago they would all stop mid-morning for this important meal called snack, to “keep them going”.

Yes, there are benefits of stopping children mid-morning to gather round a table and develop the skills of social interaction, etiquette and how to spread jam on a pancake. My heart always sank as a parent helper knowing I was going to be on all fours cleaning that sticky strawberry jam off the floor later, as it rarely stayed on the pancake, but this was not the part that I found the most alarming. Why had we suddenly been gifted a whole new meal time with its own name?

We have been told repeatedly (via advertising turned popular idea) that we need snacks to keep us full between meals. We are told this by the same companies who make breakfast cereals and snack bars, but if we consumed meals made from proteins and decent fats rather than processed refined carbohydrates and sugars, then we wouldn’t need anything else to “keep us going” between meals. If you see a study telling you that people lose weight when they eat breakfast, I would check who paid for the research.

Intermittent fasters will tell you that even if they don’t usually target a low-carb healthy-fat diet, they find longer fasts easier if their last meal consisted of fewer refined carbohydrates. Which brings me nicely to Intermittent Fasting.

I’m often told by people wanting to lose weight that they can’t possibly give up carbs such as their precious breads (and besides they eat “healthy” whole grain varieties anyway). If I can’t persuade them that even whole grains break down to the glucose that spikes their insulin, then I would suggest intermittent fasting. Michael Moseley made the 5:2 diet popular a few years ago and the IF way of fasting for 18 hours in the day, with an eating window in the other 6 hours (or even a 20:4 pattern) is becoming increasingly popular and producing some remarkable results. Both use the same mechanism and it isn’t calorie reduction, as all calories can be consumed during the eating window, so let’s put that fallacy to bed now.

Ultimately the target is to lower insulin levels and to bring them down to a constant level without the hourly up/down spiking throughout the day that breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack, supper, snack provide. Food raises insulin and insulin stops the body from using up fat stores. Whilst your insulin level is high, that donut you had three years ago that sits on your spare tyre, isn’t going anywhere.

Weight loss that doesn’t involve a low fat, calorie counting, miserable existence should include a combination of low carbohydrates, healthy fats and intermittent fasting. Some get on just fine eating their usual diet, but in an 18:6 fasting pattern. Those searching just for weight loss might find other benefits such a reduction in the risks of type II diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, osteoarthritis and some cancers. Yoshinori Osumi was awarded a Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for discoveries of mechanisms of autophagy, the degrading and recycling of cellular components supposedly increased in a fasting state. The benefits of not eating breakfast go way beyond not having to pay for breakfast cereal.

I promised to tell you what happened when a GP colleague sat next to me at dinner and chastised me for eating meat and for losing considerable weight on a ketogenic diet. She reeled back in horror when I said that I don’t eat breakfast. Why? “because we ALL KNOW that breakfast is the most important meal of the day” she scoffed. My immediate response was to inform her that once again, she was spouting more of the same nonsensical exudate, but I contemplated her age-old, ill-thought-through regurgitated opinion whilst I chewed on my steak. In the end I didn’t actually disagree but I would put it like this…

It depends on when you choose to break your fast.


Books to check out:

The Obesity Code by Jason Fung
Delay Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens
Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal by Terence Kealey



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