Breakfast is the best meal and you could never start the day without it. How many times have we heard phrases of this kind? How many times in the morning did our parents tie us to the chair and force us to eat biscuits, milk, toast, butter and jam?

Nutritionists, doctors, television and advertising spots convince us every day that breakfast is very important to keep healthy and that jumping it would compromise your morning performance and even make you overweight and obese.

However, this moment of our daily routine for us almost taken for granted, has not always existed in our evolutionary history. The so-called “breakfast of samples” has no scientific, biological or anthropological foundation, but only socio-cultural and economic.

In this article we will destroy the false myth of breakfast in an attempt, as always, to give the reader information that is not spoiled and free from all kinds of conflicts of interest.

EATING HABITS AND HUMAN EVOLUTION

There has always been a great deal of confusion between the medical-scientific community and the study of our evolution and in particular of the lifestyle that has accompanied us for millions of years, can make everyone agree on what is “right” and “wrong” in terms of health. What we were and have done for millions of years cannot be forgotten and must serve as a starting point from which to direct scientific research.

On this basis, we observe that for most of its millions of years of evolutionary history, mankind has never eaten three or more times a day and in today’s world many populations of hunter-gatherers take food only once a day (and not for lack of availability), NEVER in the morning.

The anthropologist Richard Wrangham (professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA), has collected worldwide testimonies from his colleagues about hunter-gatherer societies on the frequency and timing of meals throughout the day. The results are incredibly homogeneous at any latitude [1]:

  • Inuit (Eskimos), (Alaska, Canada): “The only cooked meal was that of the evening”. (Burch 1998, p.44) [2]

  • Tiwi (Australia): “Usually at least two or three of my wives at the end of the day come back with something, and then we can all eat” (Hart and Pilling 1960, p. 35) [3]

  • Aranda (Australia): “The main meal usually takes place towards evening, when hunting and mana (food) harvesting return. Women are concerned with recovering fuel” Schulze (1891) [4].

  • Syrian (Bolivia): “The main meal always takes place in the late afternoon or early evening”, when each household prepares its own food (Holmeberg 1969, p.87) [5].

  • Andamani (Andaman Islands - Indian Ocean): “In the afternoon, women return with what they have found, then men also arrive with their supplies. Unless the hunt has been unsuccessful, the camp comes alive for the preparation of the evening meal, which is the most important of the day (…) Meat is distributed among the members of the community and the woman of each family is then preparing to cook dinner” (Radcliffe-Brown 1922, p. 38) [6].

  • Tlingit (Alaska-Canada): “They once ate only twice a day: in the morning immediately after waking up (…) and in the evening”. This last meal was the most substantial meal (…) the hunter or nomad would not have eaten unless he had arrived safely at the camp, or after completing the work of the day” (Emmons 1991, p.140.) [7].

Until 10,000 years ago, when cereals, dairy products and legumes were introduced following the agricultural revolution, man never had breakfast and there were one or at most two meals.

At sunrise we woke up to go hunting, we ate some fruit or berry that was during the walk and in the evening, if the hunt had gone well we had a big meal [1].

Until 2000 years ago, the Romans still had only two meals, called dinner and prandium. Dinner was usually not abundant and only in certain circumstances it was extended and was called convivium, or epulum in case of ritual banquet. In most cases, the Roman during the day and without ritual hours eats a frugal meal, the prandium precisely, which in war (but also in politics or other challenging activities, ie the workshop) also becomes the only one of the day.

The same philosopher and playwright Seneca writes that he is proud to eat some dried figs when travelling and that this frugality was considered at the same time a sign of wisdom, provided however that this simplicity is then balanced every now and then by cheerful convivial festivals: le cenae [8].

Only 1000 years ago breakfast was introduced to break the night fasting (English break and fast). But it is not the breakfast that we all know with milk, rusks, coffee, jams, bread and chocolate but a frugal snack consisting mainly of leftovers from dinner. The main meals always remained two, with timing differences from country to country and choice of foods according to different cultures and working hours [8].

And so it was until the end of the 1800s with the advent of cereals at breakfast….

A BRILLIANT COMMERCIAL EXPEDIENT

The boom in the classic breakfast with milk and cereals dates back to around 1895 in the USA, when the religious brothers John and William Kellogg, Seventh Day Adventists (a Christian religious movement), decided to create a morning meal that could inhibit sexual desire and fight masturbation.

Respectively a doctor and chief executive of the Battle Creek Mental Health Institute, the Kellogg brothers were supporters of sexual abstinence, and especially John, the most religious and follower of the strict rules of Adventist Sylvester Grahm, preached to avoid in any way tasty foods, sweet or spicy, as they were dangerously aphrodisiac.

To follow these religious follies, the food served at the Institute’s canteen was practically flavorless and made from cereals and legumes. Meat was categorically prohibited as being responsible for all evils and aphrodisiac [9].

One day the two brothers distracted and left a grain baking tray to cool a little too long so that they became softer. Waste was not allowed and the two invented themselves to give the same wheat mash to the patients as expected. They pressed it, expected some puff pastry and instead strangely obtained some small pieces that toasted and soaked in milk to make them more or less edible.

The famous cornflakes were born, which unexpectedly were very appreciated among the patients of the clinic and William sensed that perhaps even outside the sanatorium they could appreciate the novelty and decided to market cereals.

In 1906, the brothers founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company, which became the Kellogg Company only in 1922.

William soon clashed with his brother to add sugar to the recipe, which John considered the food of sin, and he sued his brother by dragging him to court. William won the cause and since then sugar has been part of the recipe.

Not knowing when to eat this meal for the Americans, Kellogg chose the morning where the Americans had a quick and frugal breakfast. Follow a devastating advertising campaign costing millions of dollars to convince American citizens of the importance of starting the day with a rich breakfast that gave so much energy (they also gave a children’s book to those who bought at least two cereal boxes).

Everything was false, without any scientific basis, but the Kellogg project worked perfectly and soon the company earned millions of dollars. The Kellogg Company soon expanded its earnings by starting to export breakfast cereals to Europe as well and in the post-war economic boom, they landed on our tables [10].

The world is undergoing its first globalization because of breakfast and the meals of the day became three: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today, food companies producing breakfast products have grown exponentially, and this absurd invention is driving billions of dollars in business.

WHY BREAKFAST IS COMPROMISING YOUR HEALTH

For at least 2.5 million years homo sapiens has never had breakfast and all the populations that still live on hunting and gathering at any latitude of the earth’s globe eat only once a day, in the evening [1]. This habit has not changed even during 10,000 years after the introduction of agriculture and only 300 years ago, still 80/90% of the western population had only two meals a day and almost no meals in the morning [8].

According to the evolutionary mismatch theory (read more about it here), from the genetic point of view it takes at least 20,000 to 50,000 years to make substantial changes in human DNA [11] and therefore our genome, forged during evolution, is still set to make one or at most two daily meals and NEVER in the morning.

How is it possible, then, that the meal on awakening has become fundamental for man?

If in 10.000 years or so since the advent of the agricultural revolution, our DNA has not yet adapted to post-agricultural foods such as cereals, dairy products and legumes (and since then we have paid the price with chronic degenerative diseases unknown to the homo sapiens hunter-gatherer), how is it possible that in less than 100 years we have adapted to a morning meal that has never existed in the history of human evolution and to 90% of the cases made with foods that have never existed?

All this is absurd and there is no biological, physiological, anthropological, genetic, nothing of nothing basis, but only an invention of modern man.

As everyone might think, the reason why man would never have had breakfast is not because of the lack of food in the morning but because of our internal clock that marks the so-called circadian rhythms.

We are talking about chronobiology, that is the branch of biology that studies periodic (cyclical) phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to their day/night rhythms. A science too often forgotten by the medical community that increasingly sees us as bodies detached from nature, making a serious mistake in our opinion because it is nature that we belong.

Since the Earth revolves around its axis and around the sun, all animal and plant species, including bacteria and algae, are affected by the day/night cycle and its temperature variations. The human species is no exception and we have also developed an internal molecular clock that marks circadian rhythms of variation of physiological parameters that allow us to anticipate changes in light and temperature, maximizing the probability of reproduction and therefore survival of the species [12].

Examples of circadian rhythms are the sleep/wake rhythm, the secretion rhythms of hormones (including cortisol, testosterone, insulin, growth hormone and many others), the rhythm of variation of body temperature and other parameters related to the circulatory system as well as the digestive system.

Let’s take into account the activity of the digestive tract in the early morning. Intestinal motility is very reduced to increase progressively during the day and decrease again towards evening until it stops almost completely at night. This would explain why man is not ready to receive food in the early morning and during the hours intended for sleep.

The classic sandwich at 4 o’clock at night on returning from the disco as a hearty breakfast on waking up are habits to be abandoned in accordance with circadian rhythms.

Not surprisingly, most people who skip breakfast say they are not hungry in the morning or that their stomach is closed. Similarly, most children, who have an innate instinct and have not yet been indoctrinated by cultural eating habits, always tend to make whims when required to have breakfast. They are not simply hungry, as it is natural that they are and will not die for sure if they skip breakfast indeed if your children do not want to eat in the morning do not force them and try to take an example from them.

It has been widely demonstrated that the disturbance of circadian rhythms can compromise the state of health by favouring the development of chronic degenerative diseases [12].

In particular, sleep-wake rhythm disturbance in night shift workers is positively related to the development of cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, obesity, depression, neurodegenerative diseases, even cancer and much more [12].

What does breakfast have to do with all this? Breakfast, especially when made with carbohydrate-rich foods with high glycemic index (the classic “sample breakfast” with cereals, milk, jam, bread, biscuits, croissants and cappuccino), literally suppresses the natural production of morning cortisol and could contribute, along with other factors such as chronic stress, to threaten the sleep/wake rhythm.

As a result, you will feel tired in the morning, due to insulin peaks and the resulting cortisol deficiency, and active in the evening. The circadian rhythm of cortisol production is reversed, low in the morning and high in the evening, helping to tilt your entire biological clock with cascading repercussions on circadian production of all other hormones.

This disorder increasingly affects modern man, so much so that it has been classified by various authors as a real syndrome [13].

You will be filled with stimulating drinks in the morning and in the evening you will drink liters of chamomile in the hope of taking a sleep. The sleep-wake rhythm will inevitably be compromised with inevitable negative consequences on health, soaring the risk of developing the above-mentioned chronic degenerative diseases [12].

Jumping breakfast or eating something as quick as an egg or fruit can help you restore circadian cortisol rhythms and thus smooth out the sleep/wake rhythm while avoiding future health problems.

DOES SKIPPING BREAKFAST MAKES OBESE? WRONG! BECAUSE THE STUDIES HAVE BEEN MANIPULATED!

What you have just read will certainly have been criticised. “Scientific studies say exactly the opposite, that is, that breakfast is good and jumping it would increase the risk of becoming overweight or even obese.

There is indeed a lot of published research that skip breakfast increases the risk of obesity. The logical hypothesis of these studies or PEBO (proposed effect of breakfast on obesity) would be: if we do not eat in the morning, not only do we not have enough energy during the day, but then we eat more than we should, eating more calories than we need and, therefore, we fatten.

The mechanism is plausible, but far from proven.

The pro-breakfast studies over the last 30 years, whether voluntary or not, have been manipulated.

Proof of this was a meta-analysis of 2013 published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which reviewed a large number of breakfast articles about PEBO, from 1994 to 2013.

“Twenty years of false studies, full of methodological errors and preconceptions and economic resources that could be used to conduct other more objective studies”, write the researchers in the discussions of the article entitled: “Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence” [14].

Several factors, intentional and unintentional, influence beliefs beyond what is justified by scientific evidence. The RLPV (research lacking probative value) and the BRR (biased research reporting) are the two factors that, according to researchers at the University of Alabama, have influenced the research in favor of breakfast: these studies lack evidential value and research reports have prejudices and are therefore distorted [14].

In short, reviewing dozens of different studies, articles, meta-analyses from 1994 onwards that would prove the PEBO, it has been shown that:

  1. The PEBO is only presumed and instead is almost always indicated as true despite ambiguous evidence;
  2. The continuous repetition of the association between breakfast and obesity, is absolutely free; there are numerous studies not probative in the PEBO literature.
  3. There is evidence of prejudice to the reporting of one’s own research and that of others on this subject. In short, when there are quotations from other studies, one assumes conclusions that perhaps that study has not confirmed at all.

In practice, all the current literature of scientific knowledge indicates that the PEBO is presumed to be true, without valid evidence. Most observational research on PEBO has arbitrarily established the association, but not the causal relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity.

MANIPULATION IN BAD FAITH OR UNCONSCIOUS? HALO EFFECT FAULT

Frequent statements about the general benefits of breakfast consumption, more easily summarized as “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, could potentially predispose individuals to give breakfast other positive attributes because of the “halo effect”, that is, carrying the psychological effect resulting in the foods traditionally used in the morning being considered intrinsically good and healthy [14].

In addition, repeated exposure to RLPV may further predispose researchers to believe specifically in PEBO because of the “mere exposure effect”: individuals tend to believe something to which they have been repeatedly exposed. This predisposition can be exacerbated if the exposure consists of tendentious information that communicates stronger conclusions than the evidence justifies, as shown in the BRR [14].

In turn, individuals may be less likely to seek or accept information contrary to their preconceptions (systematic confirmation error) as a way to reduce mental discomfort associated with conflicting information (cognitive dissonance).

A resulting distorted mental deposit of information would be consistent with the reason why individuals believe more strongly in a presumption than existing evidence objectively supports [14].

This complex mechanism has always influenced the vision we have on breakfast and worse still has influenced researchers who consequently conducted non-objective studies (intrinsic peculiarity of scientific research or objectivity): serious error.

And it is the same mechanism that is used to influence public opinion: a message (a lie or a truth) is repeated endlessly until, entering into the collective head and conscience, it is accepted and in turn spread as an unquestionable truth.
But who are the real responsible for the halo effect?

Researchers at Alabama University have identified numerous statements and recommendations that encourage people to eat breakfast by spreading the message that if you jump you risk becoming obese.

These recommendations are from popular health icons, authoritative web-based health information and also from Surgeon General, the leading public health spokesperson in the US federal government. There is also the Mayo Clinic with the free quote: “in fact, skipping breakfast increases the risk of obesity”. Discovery Health says: “Make sure you have a healthy breakfast by 9am, even if it means eating a bowl of oatmeal while dressing and making up.

Other evidence of this situation are some free and completely unfounded statements about who skips breakfast, such as “after looting the vending machine”, or symposia by bodies such as the Nutrition Society (the largest scientific nutrition society in Europe, also operating in the U.S.) entitled “Does breakfast help manage body weight? [14].

If we go to the Nutrition Society website we find a pin of wheat in the logo…coincidences?

The system works like this. A large dairy, cereal or breakfast company often does not directly communicate that their products are good for health (because it would be too brazen and not credible) but is held on the vague by organizing, for example, “scientific” symposia on how to skip the first meal of the day can lead to obesity.

But breakfast is not made with steaks and broccoli but, almost always, with dairy products and cereals, so for the positive halo effect, the consumer psychologically associates the cappuccino and croissant or scientifically called “baked product” to something absolutely beneficial for health.

In short, the system works like this:

The food multinationals try to sell their products not only through advertising but also by funding scientific research into the damage that it does by blowing breakfast and thus creating a positive halo on their products.

State research institutions, which are always short of money, cannot afford to refuse funding.

Studies that come out normally agree that skipping breakfast increases the risk of obesity.

Finally, the results of these studies are published in newspapers, news, the Internet and advertisements. The end result: the public is convinced that breakfast is “the best meal of the day”.

Let’s then say that objectively biscuits, croissants and cappuccinos are delicious and create a strong dependency, the positive halo on breakfast is further strengthened.

And we are all very happy in this way: the food industries make a profit, research institutes have more liquidity, the mass media receive money from advertising, consumers receive reassuring messages in their comfort area as much as their beautiful cup of milk with cereals is good for health.

In the end, a sweet lie is more reassuring than an uncomfortable truth.

CONCLUSIONS

Analyzing history and human evolution we have discovered that eating in the morning on waking up is only a habit of modern man. We have never eaten three or more times a day and the much loved breakfast is a meal that became customary for about 100 years, with the Kellogg brothers who invented the flaked cereals.

From an evolutionary point of view, since to obtain substantial adaptations our genes need an exposure period that varies between about 20,000 and 50,000 years to a given environment, we are still set to have one or at most two meals per day.

The human evolution that has been going on for over 2.5 million years, with the appearance of the first Homo species, and progressively forged our DNA according to cycles of abundance and famine, has never known breakfast except in the last 100 years.

In addition, the famous waking meal fully lapses with the circadian rhythm of cortisol production, which together with other factors such as chronic stress, tilt our biological clock altering the sleep/wake rhythm and encouraging the development of chronic degenerative diseases.

“But scientific research shows that breakfast is essential to stay in good health and even to reduce the risk of obesity. WRONG!!! Scientific studies over the last 30 years have been manipulated, whether voluntarily or not, by the halo effect and no correlation has been demonstrated that skipping breakfast makes you fat.

How can one claim that a meal on waking up has become fundamental for man (and that jumping it would even increase the risk of obesity!!!) if we do so only from 0.004% of our evolutionary history?

How can this still be supported, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation figures speak for themselves, if it is precisely in the last 100 years that we have been witnessing a real obesity pandemic?

We do not want to give personal opinions, but here too it would be more objective than personal, but we will leave it to you to think about these questions.

To recap: breakfast yes or no?

Surely, you have to give up on processed foods, such as cereals and dairy products. Try to have a more substantial meal in the evening but not immediately before bed and you will not be hungry in the morning. If not, don’t say you should fast until lunch but try eating eggs, some nuts or seasonal fruit without abounding with quantities.

Try to get out of the social scheme breakfast, lunch, dinner. Respect your internal biological clock and eat when you need it. You will not die of hunger and hardship, be calm.

Let your genes express themselves at their best and you will get incredible results.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Richard Wrangham (2009) Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
2. Burch, E. 1998. The Inupiaq Eskimo Nations of Northwest Alaska. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.
3. Hart, C. W. M., and A. R. Pilling. 1960. The Tiwi of North Australia. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
4. Schulze, L. G. 1891. “The Aborigines of the Upper and Middle Finke River: Their Habits and Customs, with Introductory Notes on the Physical and Natural-History Features of the Country.” Transactions and Proceedings and Reports of the Royal Society of South Australia 14:210-246.
5. Holmberg, A. R. 1969. Nomads of the Longbow: The Siriono of Eastern Bolivia. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.
6. Radcliffe-Brown, A. 1922. The Andaman Islanders: A Study in Social Anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
7. Emmons, G. T. 1991. The Tlingit Indians. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
8. “Storia dell’alimentazione”. J.-L. Flandrin e M.Montanari. Terza edizione 2003. Editori Laterza
9. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_flakes
10. “Arrivano i cornflakes!” – Weird.it
11. Macaulay, V, Richards, M, Hickey, E et al. The emerging tree of West Eurasian mtDNAs: a synthesis of control-region sequences and RFLPs. Am J Hum Genet. 1999; 64: 232–249.
12. Russel G. Foster & Leon Kreitzman. Circadian Rhythms – A very short introduction. Oxford University Press 2017.
13. Robb Wolf. The Paleo Solution. 2010
14. Andrew W Brown Michelle M Bohan Brown David B Allison. Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 98, Issue 5, 1 November 2013, Pages 1298–1308, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.064410.