An article in this section earlier this week highlighted the increased coffee consumption of millennials.
What I have observed in our patients as a related problem is that many people, especially young people who are always in a hurry, have the wrong impression—that coffee is all they need for breakfast.
A cup or two of coffee is not equivalent to a full, healthy breakfast. It may be a good part of it, but it does not fulfill the important role of a complete breakfast for our bodies. We’ve always heard the advice: “Always have a king’s breakfast, a rich man’s lunch and a pauper’s dinner.” This gives us a fair guideline on how our caloric intake must be distributed throughout the day.
However, many follow the opposite—they skip breakfast, grab a sandwich for lunch, and have a heavy dinner at home or elsewhere. “You see, doc, that’s when the family’s all together at the dining table and we’re not in a rush anymore.”
Good reason, but still an unhealthy practice.
We now have robust data showing that skipping breakfast is linked to health risks, including problems in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
For people trying to lose weight, skipping breakfast is never a good strategy. In fact, people who skip breakfast tend to gain more weight.
Eating a full, healthy breakfast actually enhances metabolism. During the night—for around eight to 12 hours— our body is in a fasting state, with no source of nutrition. Skipping breakfast extends this fasting state, which is not good for our metabolism. Taking coffee alone without breakfast aggravates it further by boosting the metabolism without any replenishment of nutrients.
So breakfast literally breaks the fast, and helps restore the metabolism in the morning before we work. Breakfast appears to be the best meal to take in more calories.
Scientists suggest that our tolerance for carbohydrates is optimum during breakfast, and our cells are relatively more sensitive to insulin at this time.
So one can take a heavier carbohydrate load in the morning. The body has the whole day to burn the calories, so there’s no significant fat storage at the end of the day. The reverse can be expected if one skips breakfast and takes in a heavy load of carbohydrates and fats for supper.
Why may skipping breakfast paradoxically lead to weight gain? It may be due to overindulgence in snacks and junk foods during the day to “make up” for the skipped breakfast. But this is not the scary part.
There are some studies suggesting that because of the extended fasting state of the body, this produces a stressful condition in the cells called “oxidation,” wherein some starving cells become “terrorist cells” by forming oxygen-free radicals that destroy cells they come in contact with.
In the arteries, they can disrupt the normal functioning, leading to endothelial dysfunction, and triggering the atherosclerotic process or narrowing of the arteries.
A Harvard study published four years ago looked at the health records of almost 27,000 male healthcare professionals, who were 45-82 years old when the study began. The researchers correlated lifestyle practices, including skipping breakfast, and health outcomes for a period of about 16 years.
Men who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying prematurely due to the narrowing of the heart arteries (coronary heart disease).
Skipping breakfast also appeared to be linked with other unhealthy lifestyle practices such as smoking, heavier alcohol intake, longer hours at work and being less physically active.
The researchers did a second analysis to remove the influence of these other unhealthy lifestyle practices, and though there was a reduction in risk, there was still a link between skipping breakfast and increased risk for heart attack and death.
Dr. Leah Cahill, one of the study’s authors, explains that skipping breakfast leads to increases in blood pressure, blood concentrations of insulin, triglycerides, free fatty acids and LDL-cholesterol (bad type of cholesterol), and to decreases in blood concentrations of HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol).
So, not breaking the body’s fast by skipping our all-important first meal of the day, and taking a strong coffee while skipping breakfast, are two unhealthy practices we should try to get rid of.