Breakfast Cereal Eaters are Thinner, More Nourished

by | Nov 12, 2008

The case for eating breakfast everyday is mounting. We already know that people who eat breakfast are generally thinner than those who do not. They also tend to eat a healthier diet overall. Now new data suggest that the nutritional quality of your breakfast is also important for your health. Surprise!

A study published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is the first to address how your choice of breakfast is correlated with the quality of food chosen during the rest of the day. The scientists combined dietary data from three continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1999-2004) to determine energy density, nutritional quality and variety of foods eaten. They also examined the relationship between breakfast choices and body mass index (BMI). A total of 12,316 people were analyzed.

Eighty percent of people in the study reported eating breakfast. Although breakfast eaters ate more total daily calories during the study, the foods they chose tended to be of lower energy density. Lower energy density foods have fewer calories per gram and are usually associated with more nutritious fare such as fruits, vegetables and grains. Examples of higher energy density foods are meats, cheeses and processed carbohydrates.

Interestingly, breakfasts of lower energy density, such as cereal with milk and fruit, were an indication of a more diverse diet throughout the rest of the day. In other words, participants who ate cereal for breakfast were more likely to report eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and other healthful foods overall. This was true whether or not breakfast itself was included in the calculation.

People who chose breakfasts of higher energy density ate fewer different kinds of foods, but more pastries and junk foods. Countless studies have shown that dietary diversity is one of the best predictors of good health. This was confirmed in this study, as higher energy density breakfasts predicted fewer beneficial micronutrients consumed overall.

The researchers also found that seventeen percent of people who ate breakfast reported items that could not be “grouped into the major food groups,” things such as pastries, confections and meal replacement drinks and bars. With this the authors of the study point out that a significant percentage of Americans do not eat “real food” for breakfast (somewhere Michael Pollan is smiling and nodding). Not surprisingly, this group comprised the highest average energy density of any type of breakfast.

Women (but not men) that did not eat breakfast had a higher average BMI. This was true regardless of body image or attempted weight loss. In both men and women, breakfast energy density showed a linear positive association with BMI. This means that even for people who do eat breakfast, if you eat foods with higher energy density you will probably weigh more.

In English, what this all means is that although eating breakfast alone does a body good, it is much better if your breakfast is cereal and fruit rather than eggs and meat.

There is no clear cause and effect in an analysis of this kind, however there seems to be a correlation between eating less healthy foods at breakfast and making poor food choices throughout the day. While it is possible that some people simply make unhealthy selections all the time, there is also a possibility that your breakfast choices affect metabolic and hormonal systems that alter your cravings for different foods over the course of the day. Indeed, there are studies showing that people who eat whole grains in the morning have altered insulin responses for nine to twelve hours after eating.

Even if your breakfast choice does not have a direct impact on the rest of your food selections, choosing cereals and fruit will certainly bring you a step closer to better health. Pouring a bowl of whole grain cereal and adding some fruit is pretty simple, and I guarantee you it is easier than making eggs and sausage. Do yourself a favor and save the cakes and donuts for dessert.

This article can also be found at Synapse.

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8 Responses to “Breakfast Cereal Eaters are Thinner, More Nourished”

  1. Jed Wolpaw says:

    Need I say again: Optimum Power Cereal=Breakfast of Championships (no copyright violation).If you need convincing just look on the back of the box, Dean Karnassus runs 100 mile marathons after eating the stuff.’nuf said

  2. Anonymous says:

    So my brother’s breakfast of diet coke and pop-tarts isn’t gonna cut it?

  3. Nicholas says:

    Personally, the magical PowerSauce Bar is my breakfast of choice.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That video had nothing to do with breakfast.The bottom line is that you just need to sit down and take the time to do breakfast right, gettin a starbucks/lemon muffin on the way to work won’t cut it- everyone knows it, yet still does it.

  5. Darya Pino says:

    nicholas:I nearly forgot about PowerSauce bars! I’m pretty sure those things are just apple cores and Chinese newspapers though.—–anon2:I think people erroneously believe it is easier/faster to go grab something at Starbucks, and that’s why they do it anyway. But I contend if you have everything you need in your kitchen already, it is actually much faster to just eat at home. Not to mention waaaay cheaper.

  6. tbone says:

    What are you views on the cereal Total and their claims of 100% Daily Value of vitamins?

  7. Darya Pino says:

    tbone:When they say 100%, they are referring to the Reference Daily Intakes published by the USDA. That is good enough reason alone to not trust them. But there are better reasons too.The USDA is solely concerned with the health of US agriculture (go figure). Their recommendations are shaped by lobbiests in the major ag industries, such as corn, soy, dairy and meat. That is why the food pyramid recommends an inconceivable 25% of calories from milk, and meat and beans are in the same category. Buh?Other than that, the reason cereals (Total, Special K or whatever) have so many vitamins is because they are fortified. They are not the natural vitamins from the whole grain (which will seem very unimpressive, comparatively, if you are going by just numbers). So essentially they have ground up a multivitamin and put it in your cereal. See above article to understand why this is a problem.If you aren’t eating very healthy overall, fortification is probably good for you. However, you are still probably better off eating real whole grains and just taking a multivitamin. If you are like me and eat whole foods almost exclusively, you do not need fortified cereals.

  8. Dee says:

    Darya,
    So Is it about the higher calories total or the hormonal response to the composition?

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