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The breakfast hype

Be it eggs or a hearty bowl of oatmeal, morning fare has long been branded the most important meal. Now some scientists are saying: Not so.

September 18, 2006|Andreas von Bubnoff | Special to The Times

In exploring the breakfast issue, some scientists have even experimented on themselves. For Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, years of self experimentation, changing one thing at a time and meticulously recording the effects, showed him that he tended to wake up several hours before breakfast. The effect, called "anticipatory activity," has been known in animals for decades, he says.

So he cut out breakfast. And now he sleeps much better.

"People get it exactly wrong," he says. "Breakfast is the most important meal to avoid."

Pro-breakfast researchers and dietitians are not too impressed by such findings. They note that animal studies may not apply to human beings, and as-yet-unpublished trials on people have not yet passed the test of critical peer review.

The case against breakfast is "based on bad science and spurious assumptions," says Murphy of Harvard.

"Don't throw out breakfast because of a few animal studies," he says. "Even for adults, the evidence is strong."

Many breakfast advocates also say there's a need for better studies -- such as formal clinical trials -- to study the role of breakfast in promoting good health. But this doesn't mean, they add, that the data for the traditional morning meal aren't pretty persuasive already.

"I totally agree that we need more research," say Striegel-Moore of Wesleyan. "But if pinned to the wall, I would say that breakfast skipping is bad. Is the evidence bulletproof? No. It's like climate change. We haven't experimentally manipulated the Earth, but we have got a lot of evidence."

It is not clear that major, federal money will ever be thrown at settling the breakfast dilemma. In the meantime, anyone who wants to skip it but is worried about those shortfalls in vitamins and minerals can take a handy tip from Mattson.

"Eat breakfast at lunch," he says.

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