Cereal makers sold us a breakfast myth

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Grape Nuts was one of the first American cereal
brands.
It claimed it could “steady a man’s nerves”
and “clear his brain.”
It could keep you cool in the summer.
It was food for muscles.
For “the warding off of disease.”
And for “men of brains.”
It was the “most scientific brain and nerve
food in existence.”
These ads might seem ancient, but in connecting
breakfast cereal with health, they aren’t
so different from how breakfast has been sold
to us ever since.
“Cheerios breakfast gives you the power
protein.”
“How do I stay so slim?
I watch what I eat, like Post Grape Nuts for
breakfast.”
“Data shows women who eat breakfast tend
to weigh less than those who don’t.”
The problem with a lot of these claims is
— they’re not exactly true.
But the idea of breakfast being good for health
— especially weight loss — has persisted
for over a century.
So where does this myth come from?
And what does this guy have to do with it?
“For children there’s pretty strong evidence
that breakfast is a good idea.”
That’s Julia Belluz who reports on health
for Vox.
“As an adult one of the most common claims
we hear about breakfast is that it really
promotes weight loss”
And that idea didn’t come out of nowhere.
There’s a whole body of research that connects
breakfast with weight loss.
But the methods behind a lot of those studies
don’t always hold up.
Like this one, that found an association between
eating breakfast, and having a low body mass index.
That might be true, but studies like this
aren’t actually testing what would happen
if you were to change your breakfast behavior.
“The problem with those studies is that
breakfast skippers and breakfast eaters are
different people.
So maybe the breakfast eaters earn more money
and exercise more and that explains why they
weigh less than the breakfast skippers.”
Most of these studies also don’t take into
account a major factor: what we eat for breakfast.
There’s likely a big difference between
eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, or a bowl
of steel cut oats.
There was even a study of studies…that tried
to answer the question: does our best research
on breakfast prove that it helps with weight
loss?
“Researchers looked at 13 randomized controlled
trials, the highest quality of evidence,
on breakfast and its effect on weight loss.”
When researchers looked at the studies…they
found there’s “no evidence to support
the notion” that eating breakfast helps
you lose weight.
“And they found that breakfast might even
had the opposite of the desired effect.
In some studies people actually gained a little
bit of weight when they started to eat breakfast.”
So if the available science doesn’t actually
support this idea, why do we still believe
eating breakfast is a healthier way to live?
Well, it has a lot to do with these guys.
Before they got into cereal, Dr. John Harvey
Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg,
ran a family business.
The “Battle Creek Sanitarium.”
It was a wellness center, a place where the
wealthy could go for what they called “biologic living”.
It included things like salt glow baths, light
treatments, and strange looking exercise machines.
It was there in 1898 that John Harvey
came up with corn flakes, as a way to curb
indigestion.
But he was also an extremely religious doctor
who believed masturbation was a carnal sin.
And he prescribed a bland diet, including
corn flakes, as part of the cure.
In 1906, John Harvey’s brother, Will Keith,
took corn flakes, and mass-marketed them to the world.
By 1917, Good Health, a magazine edited
by John Harvey Kellogg, wrote “In many
ways, the breakfast is the most important
meal of the day.”
With claims like this, cereal makers solidified
the idea of a healthy breakfast.
“It repairs and it sustains all body tissue.”
“It’s part of your good breakfast.”
And today, a lot of the science cited in cereal
commercials has a similar source.
“Part of a good breakfast.”
Take a look at the small print on these studies.
This one concludes breakfast skipping is not
good for managing weight.
It’s funded by the Kellogg Company.
And this one found breakfast skipping had
other health costs — like high cholesterol.
It’s funded by another major breakfast maker, Quaker
Oats.
So, knowing all this about the slippery science
of breakfast — should we still be eating it?
There’s little evidence that it’s a great
weight loss strategy…but that doesn’t
mean breakfast is bad.
“For a lot of people breakfast isn’t pointless.
It can be a good time of day to stock up on
vitamins and nutrients.
But for the rest of us, it’s up to you.”
That means, if you’re a breakfast eater,
like Julia, you can carry on.
And if you’re a breakfast-skipper, like
me?
Don’t worry, the best science we have suggests
we’re probably just fine either way.
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