The Breakfast Research Paradox

Think a healthy breakfast is best? Careful what you're reading.


Chris Nicoll
I hate research sometimes. I love doing research and reading quality research, but I’ve really begun to hate how all the so-called diet “gurus” out there use research to suit their own purposes. 

When I say the word scientist, what do you think of? You probably envision someone in a lab coat, running experiments free of judgment or bias, and looking impartially at the hard data that come from their ideas. This, however, isn’t always what happens. Scientists conduct studies—and gurus read their results—with preconceived notions, wanting and expecting a particular outcome, and then skew these studies by finding populations, creating protocols, and measuring specific things that fit with their theories and give them only the results they want. 

A perfect example of this is the rash of epidemiological studies that have been done over the past year with regard to the effects of eating breakfast. When these studies are set up properly, researchers are capable of showing that people who eat breakfast are healthier, weigh less, have better blood markers, and are less prone to obesity. Sounds great, right? When reports like this hit the mainstream media, breakfast is back in vogue, and everybody’s eating first thing in the morning again. 

When we really dig into things, however, we see that people who habitually don’t eat breakfast also drink more, smoke more, and work more. There are other stressors and confounding factors in their lives that aren’t taken into account, even in some of these researchers’ abstracts and conclusions. What they also fail to mention is that there’s ample research available that shows that when these factors are corrected, there’s either no difference between late eaters and morning eaters in this regard—or, the results reverse themselves altogether.


When you read these types of studies, pay close attention to whether the groups the researchers studied consisted of obese populations. They often do. This is important because we know that obese people have the opposite metabolic trends when compared with the non-obese. For example, with skinny people, insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning, and lowest in the evening. When you become obese, this is reversed—an effect known as the insulin paradox.

So, if you’re obese, you become less insulin sensitive in the mornings, and a case can be made that it may not matter when you eat your food at all. And if you eat more of it for breakfast, then nothing at night, you’re simply giving yourself a longer fasted period—which, in and of itself—can have a number of restorative effects. One of these effects is a buildup of ketones, which are effective at enabling cells to clean themselves out, and even help to stave of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

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