We've been led to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day - but is it? Picture: 123RF/OLEKSANDRA NAUMENKO
We've been led to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day - but is it? Picture: 123RF/OLEKSANDRA NAUMENKO

Until a few years ago, we all “knew” that breakfast was the most important meal of the day (we’ve heard the sentence so many times that we probably mumble it in our sleep). Now we’re being told that this was all lies. 

The newish thinking is that the more hours there are before you break the fast, the better will be your health and waistline (the two are of course interconnected). This is the impetus behind the trend of intermittent fasting, which just means skipping breakfast, but sounds more impressive.

The science behind the intermittent business — in very simplified form — is that the longer the period in which your insulin levels are low (eating raises insulin levels) and your organs are given a rest, the better.

The compulsory breakfast group, on the other hand, claim that without eating before your day starts, you’ll be a weak and pathetic mess. Breakfast, they say, will not just bolster you, but also kickstart your metabolism (though presumably it’s already been walloped by you going from horizontal and still, to vertical and moving).

Of course, as with everything, context counts. I’d hesitate to send my children to school on a freezing winter morning with nothing in their bellies. In fact, when I think about the number of children who have no choice but to do so, I feel sick with sadness. Presuming you have the privilege of choosing whether you fill your belly or leave it empty in the morning, the sensible thing might simply be to ask yourself whether or not you’re actually hungry. Wild idea, I know, but often quite useful.

And isn’t it slightly bonkers to use one word to describe the endless variations of this morning meal? Breakfast. What does that even mean? A croissant is obviously a different thing entirely to a plate of kippers. The former is technically dessert, the latter isn’t.

What most research points to is that carbohydrate, rather than breakfast per se, is the problem. This is bad news. On a rushed morning, cereal can save a frantic person’s life. But we should see it for what it is — a pretty crap emergency measure. What’s amazing is that cereal companies are allowed to claim any sort of nutritional high-ground.

The Weetbix in our pantry cupboard boasts the Cansa logo and the Heart Foundation logo. This is utter nonsense. It’s also bollocks, tripe and boloney. I’m sure the logos will be dismissed as “sponsorship” or some such, but their wordless implication makes their use unethical. There’s not one piece of research which shows that eating fibre or whole grains causes fewer incidents of cancer or heart disease.

Once again, it’s the confusion between correlation and causation. If people who eat high-fibre foods get sick less often, it’s because their other habits (the healthy lifestyle “confounders”) are at play. They’re the people who listen to medical advice, exercise, don’t smoke and so on. It has bugger-all to do with the cereal.

One good reason to eat cereal? It saves you from screaming at everyone in the morning, and lowering stress levels really is a way to lessen heart disease and cancer. Ha! Maybe that’s why they included those logos?