The Biggest Breakfast Myth

In an age of misinformation and mistrust, it can be hard to discern reality from make-believe. Yet, we can learn a lot from simply looking at history. Historical facts (i.e. numbers, trends in data, economic profits, etc.) tend to be immune to fabrication. This is true in any context, especially health information. 

Consider, for instance, that around 200 years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar per year. Added sugar was a luxury item. As sugar production became more popular, we saw a steady increase in mass consumption. In 1970, Americans ate a record 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar per year. This is equal to about 3 pounds of sugar consumed per week or 1 cup of sugar per day (NH DHHS-DPHS, 2014). 

Our bodies did not evolve to process 150 additional pounds of sugar per year. In America, luxury is too much of a good thing. Hence, it makes sense that our bodies are chronically burdened. This manifests over time and may be why we see the astronomical array of symptoms clinically. These symptoms ultimately lead to morbidity and mortality. 

Today, I see a lot of scepticism when it comes to the most important meal of the day, breakfast. Should I eat breakfast? Should I skip it and have a big lunch? Is coffee okay? The list goes on.

What I would like to emphasize first is that in America, breakfast is practically synonymous with dessert. Breakfasts like these are as deceptive as they are insidious; they will rob you from your ultimate health over time. 

I don’t want this for you, which is why I’ve written ad nauseam about the negative effects of sugar in several blog posts, for your review: 

What is a Health, Well-Balanced Diet? | Part 1 

What is a Health, Well-Balanced Diet? | Part 2

The Truth About Diabetes and How Common it is

7 Ways We Are Harming Our Liver

How to Avoid Infections 

 

In lieu of addressing the negative side effects of too much sugar here, I want to address the historical facts (and slippery science) of the American breakfast because it’s fascinating.

The story begins in 1876 when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg became the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. His brother, Will Keith Kellogg, worked as a bookkeeper and promoted the family business in Battle Creek and beyond. The sanitarium served as a wellness center that provided "biologic living"; in modern terms, these were simply “spa-like amenities”. Well-to-do visitors were able to treat themselves to services like salt glow baths, light treatments, and hydrotherapy (Kellogg, 1908). 

Everything changed in 1896 when Dr. J. H. Kellogg produced corn flakes as a way to treat indigestion at the sanitarium. Seeing moderate success, corn flakes then became a staple in Dr. J. H. Kellogg’s dietary protocol. Eight years later, Will decided to mass market his brother’s corn flakes to the world. And by 1917, Good Health, a magazine edited by Dr. J. H. Kellogg, stated that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." 

What did he recommend for breakfast? Corn flakes.

With unfounded assertions like this, which were backed from medical doctors, cereal makers solidified the idea that cereal was not only a healthy breakfast, but it was the breakfast of champions. Profits ensued.

Unfortunately, a lot of the science cited in cereal commercials and scientific articles has a similar source. You only need to read the small print.

For example, a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition concluded that breakfast skipping is not an effective way to manage weight loss, and that a better option is to eat cereal or quick breads for breakfast, since it is associated with a significantly lower body mass index compared to skipping breakfast or eating meat/eggs for breakfast (Cho et al., 2003). The problem is that the research article was funded by the Kellogg company.

Another study from the Journal of Nutritional Science found that skipping breakfast lead to high cholesterol in overweight individuals but a breakfast of oat or frosted corn flakes did not (Geliebter et al., 2014). But this, too, was funded by another major breakfast maker, Quaker Oats. Quaker Oats both contributed to the study design and edited the manuscript. That’s like having your best friend grade your final exam.

Health claims that companies make on food packaging rarely match what the scientific literature says, but consumers still make purchasing decisions based on the manufacturers claims (André, Chandon, & Haws, 2019). Because many manufacturers print claims that steer consumers in one direction, I ask you to question, What does my body really need to fully thrive and live up to its greatest potential? I highly doubt it’s something packaged in a box on a shelf.

At the end of the day, remember that there is an alarming amount of research out there that is funded by breakfast makers, and their ill-formed claims are ultimately tricking people and harming their health. Don’t believe everything you read. Cereal companies depend on people believing that breakfast means ready-to-eat healthy grains. Everyday. All year long.

Can you think of other companies that depend on you believing something that might not necessarily be true? Avoid making decisions based on perceptions because many alleged health claims do not always correspond with a product's actual nutritional status and/or health benefits. In fact, high sugar breakfasts, like cereal, will likely have the opposite effect you want.

If you need help creating a life-sustaining breakfast or are trying to incorporate healthier options into your daily routine, please CONTACT US TODAY! Advanced Health is here to help. Let’s work together to get you on the path to lifelong wellness.



References 

André, Q., Chandon, P., & Haws, K. (2019). Healthy Through Presence or Absence, Nature or Science?: A Framework for Understanding Front-of-Package Food Claims. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 38(2), 172-191.

Cho, S., Dietrich, M., Brown, C. J., Clark, C. A., & Block, G. (2003). The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 22(4), 296-302.

Geliebter, A., Astbury, N. M., Aviram-Friedman, R., Yahav, E., & Hashim, S. (2014). Skipping breakfast leads to weight loss but also elevated cholesterol compared with consuming daily breakfasts of oat porridge or frosted cornflakes in overweight individuals: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of nutritional science, 3.

Kellogg, J. H. (1908). The Battle Creek Sanitarium System. History, Organisation, Methods. Michigan: Battle Creek. p. 13. Retrieved August 19, 2019 from https://archive.org/details/battlecreeksani00kellgoog/page/n9Nutrition and Health Promotion | New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services | Division of Public Health Services (NH DHHS DPHS, 2014). How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised! Health Promotion in Motion. Retrieved from: https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf

Author
Katie Schmidt, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Katie Schmidt, MPH, INHC Kate Schmidt is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She offers a non-diet approach to health and nutrition, helping clients achieve a sustainable, satisfying relationship to food and body. Katie’s approach comes from training in integrative nutrition, epidemiology, health education, behavior change psychology and habit formation. During consultations and through assignments, clients learn how to form better habits, receiving personalized guidance tailored to their needs and lifestyle. Attention is placed on nutrition, cooking, lifestyle and mindset.

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