Science at its best

I’ve been in Canada for three and a half weeks, which is why this blog has been quiet lately. I’m half way through writing an entry which I started in heathrow airport waiting for my flight out but I’ve been lacking in time, and if I’m honest, motivation, to finish it. I will soon. Promise.

However, I came across an article on the BBC website this morning which I just had to comment on. Here’s a link. The main point of the article is that skipping breakfast is obviously bad for you and makes losing weight hard because you’re more susceptible to eat high calorie foods during the day. My favourite quote in the article is this:

Through both the participants’ MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high calorie foods and the amount people ate.

Yes, you read correctly. Fasting makes people hungry. Well I’m glad science is around to sort that one out.

Joking aside, I find this kind of article frustrating. For a start, there isn’t a link to the actual study paper itself so all we have to go on are a couple of quotes. Also, the article doesn’t mention what specific foods the participants were attracted to and/or ate during lunch time. They just mentioned “high calorie food”, but what kind of high calorie food? Doughnuts? Cheese? Pork Chops? The type of food matters, not just the amount of calories.

The article is finished off with a quote saying that breakfast is linked to stable blood sugar levels which “keeps you on the straight and narrow”, but again, it doesn’t mention what kind of breakfast. A breakfast of bacon and eggs will have a drastically different effect on blood sugar than a bowl of corn flakes. The high fat/protein breakfast will keep your blood sugar low and keep you feeling satiated for longer whereas the bowl of corn flakes (with sugar sprinkled on top?!) will have the effect of spiking blood sugar resulting in feelings of hunger very shortly afterwards and an energy slump mid morning.

The article also doesn’t mention the alternative theories about breakfast being the worst meal of the day. A lot of people within the health and fitness community are embracing the idea of intermittent fasting. The practice of eating nothing or only very little (i.e. raw fruit and veg) during the day and eating a large calorie dense meal in the evening. During the day when you are feeling hungry, your sympathetic nervous system is allowed to be in charge which results in you feeling alert and energetic. When you have your large meal at the end of the day, the para-sympathetic nervous system takes over in order to deal with the digestion of the food consumed, and this puts the body into rest mode which is perfect for the evening and seems to be in harmony with our circadian rhythm. I know that when I did this (for several months earlier in the year) I felt strong and energetic during the day and lost weight and the feeling of hunger weren’t too bad at all and would always fade away after about twenty minutes. Nowadays I tend to eat a normal lunch, but I still eat a light breakfast (berries and natural full fat yoghurt plus a protein shake if I’ve been working out). I can testify to the fact that yes, I am attracted to high calorie foods, which I then eat and guess what? I lose weight. This is because I make sure I eat lots of calories but very little carbohydrates. Calories are fuel. The more fuel we consume, the more energy we have, provided we don’t lock it away by spiking our blood sugar by eating sugar and/or refined flour and easily digested starches.

Also, there are other arguments against breakfast being the most important meal of the day. One of those is the cortisol awakening response. When we wake up after a nights sleep our body starts secreting cortisol which reaches a peak by about 30 minutes after we wake up. Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone and has been linked to weight gain.

So all in all, the article gives very little in the way of fact or scientific data and only reinforces the erroneous idea that a healthy diet is all about calorie restriction and nothing else. It’s a little disappointing that this article has been written and published by the BBC which has a large readership. Hopefully, common wisdom will soon change to keep up with the real science behind nutrition. This real science has been somewhat lacking until recently but that is changing. An exciting new organisation, NuSi, has started recently. It’s a non-profit independent organisation which aims to increase the quality of science in the area of nutrition, which up to date has largely been based on observational studies (which are always flawed) and interpretation of the results (usually even more flawed than the study). 



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