There’s some new food-related advice out this morning from the national paper that once encouraged readers to put peas in their guacamole. Aaron Carroll, sort of the resident health-science contrarian at the Times’ Upshot, says the old adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is essentially a big food-industry-funded lie. People buy into this idea that they have to eat it because studies have linked skipping breakfast to obesity, heart disease, and a variety of other very seemingly unfair consequences. But Carroll’s article (presently NYTimes.com’s fifth-most-viewed) argues that’s hokum because this claim is actually derived from “misinterpreted research and biased studies.”
[Researchers] were consistently biased in interpreting their results in favor of a relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others’ results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others’ results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad.
He notes a general dearth of randomized controlled trials, adding the trials that do exist don’t support the necessity of that particular meal. Hungry kids relying on school breakfast programs to kick-start their day is one thing, he argues, but assuming it does the same in everyone else doesn’t make much sense. Also, he hints a more insidious plot could be going on here:
Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial that showed that eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks).
“There’s nothing magical about breakfast” is his bottom line, so he says people should just go with their guts — eat if hungry, but feel free to ignore meal-shamers if they’re not. However, Carroll admits he’s “rarely hungry until about lunchtime,” so no wonder he can’t appreciate the magic of delicious doughnuts or perfectly chewy bagels. After all, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that anything beloved by both the Hobbits and Prince can’t be wrong.