We frequently hear that we shouldn’t skip breakfast. A new report from the American Heart Association agrees — and says a lot more about the connection between skipping meals and health. The study provides actionable information for a well-run workplace wellness program and ways to help remind employees about healthy eating.
To begin, the study outlines the shifting eating habits of many adults: “The patterns of meal and snack eating behavior in American adults have changed over the past 40 years. Based on NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data from 1971 to 1974 to 2009 to 2010 (n=62 298), women 20 to 74 years of age reported a decrease in 24-hour meal-derived total energy intake (TEI) from 82% in the 1970s to 77% in 2009 to 2010 and an increase in the proportion of TEI consumed from snacks from 18% to 23%.1 Similar trends were reported among men. The proportion of men and women who reported consuming all 3 standard meals declined over this period (from 73% to 59% in men; from 75% to 63% in women), reflecting changes in eating patterns rather than changes in eating frequency. Indeed, the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern was not observed in a population of healthy, non–shift-working adults.”
The conclusion is clear: “On the basis of the combined epidemiological and clinical intervention data, daily breakfast consumption among US adults may decrease the risk of adverse effects related to glucose and insulin metabolism. In addition, comprehensive dietary counseling that supports daily breakfast consumption may be helpful in promoting healthy dietary habits throughout the day.”
The report goes on to address meal frequency, meal timing, and fasting.
In reviewing the study, the Washington Post adds: “Breakfast remains an essential daily meal for optimal well-being. The advisory group also says it thinks that intermittent fasting holds promise for weight loss. Intentional planning of meals and snacks can maximize the benefits of healthy food consumption while minimizing pitfalls such as excessive snacking and late-night consumption.”
“Meal timing makes a difference, the advisory committee notes, because the body has a system of internal ‘clocks’ that regulate all aspects of metabolism. Many of these clocks are more affected by food consumption than by daylight and nighttime. For example, experiments have shown that mice gain more weight and develop more diseases when fed around the clock than when fed only in a ‘window’ of nine to 12 hours. This occurs even though total calorie consumption remains the same in both conditions.”
The Post adds that “the advisory committee listed eight ways physicians and nutritionists might help their patients improve food-consumption patterns. For consumers seeking direct action, the following six are most instructive.
1. “Eat more earlier in the day, and less later, distributing calorie consumption over fewer hours of the day.”
2. “Give your body an ample overnight ‘fast,’ as that’s when much important metabolic work is done.”
3. “Consider intermittent fasting to lower total calorie consumption and body weight.”
4. “Plan your meals and snacks to minimize hunger and achieve portion control.”
5. “Reduce consumption of high-calorie beverages.”
6. “Eat more slowly as a possible means to decrease calories and increase satiety.”