This story came across my Twitter feed earlier today and it got me a little miffed. According to a recently released report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we may have all been duped – breakfast may not play as big or any role for that matter in helping one control their weight as we’ve been led to believe. Indeed, it has been preached to the point where it’s become common knowledge amongst health professionals: those who eat breakfast are more likely to have better weight control compared to those who don’t. The idea is that if you don’t consume enough in the morning, you’ll over-eat later on as your body plays catch-up due to the lack of calories in the AM. These calories are also likely to come in the form of refined grains, sweets and salty snacks. As a result, you’re more likely to take in more calories than if you had eaten breakfast in the first place. But according to the authors of the report, the studies that yielded this message have been biased and only one was a randomly controlled trial (RCT) which helps to reduce bias yet it was very small and no additional RCTs have been done. So the evidence is weak at best.
Of course that doesn’t mean that breakfast doesn’t help, but rather that we don’t have well designed studies proving that it does. Well aside from the 78% of the folks in the National Weight Control Registry who report a daily breakfast. Those folks, and there are over 10,000 of them now, have lost on average 67.5lbs and kept them off for over 6 years.
Personally, in my experience working with hundreds of patients, almost all I’ve worked with have benefited from eating breakfast especially from a weight management standpoint. When their breakfast is optimized in terms of adequate calories and protein, they experience less hunger and subsequently consume fewer overall calories throughout the day.
And in case you need more reasons to eat breakfast, here are a few:
1) You’ll feel better – skipping breakfast can result in feeling hungry, tired and negatively affect your mental and physical functioning.
2) It’s an opportunity to eat healthy foods – such as dairy, eggs, whole grains, nuts fruits and vegetables.
3) It’s a chance to eat together as a family – family meals may be few and far between so why not take the opportunity to eat breakfast together. If your morning is rushed, try getting up twenty minutes earlier as eating together leads to a healthier functioning family, overall.
For healthy breakfast ideas, click here.
I’m often asked about various supplements and whether or not they are worth taking. So I’ve decided to post my responses via posts entitled “Should you take…” The information I present will be evidence-based and will hopefully prevent people from buying products they don’t need and could potentially harm them.
Up first: Garcinia Cambogia (also known as Gambooge, Pazham Puzhi, Bitter Kola, Malabar tamarind, (-)-Hydroxycitric acid, HCA, Hydroxycitric acid, Brindal Berry, Gorikapuli and is the main ingredient in the product Hydroxycut).
A client recently asked if they should take this to help optimize blood sugar control after hearing about it on a popular medical show. Since I didn’t know off the top of my head, I reviewed the evidence. Garcinia Cambogia is a small fruit that is most commonly used to make food taste better. It is also touted to help with weight loss, as a way to reduce appetite, help control blood lipids, as well as affect levels of estrogen and testosterone. As far as blood sugar goes, a study of 35 participants showed that when taken with another supplement (L-carnitine) a 4% increase in blood sugar and cholesterol was observed. This is a very small number of subjects making it difficult to extrapolate the results to the general population. In addition, we don’t know whether it was the garcinia cambogia, the L-carnitine or a combination of both that yielded the results. There is also no evidence that it helps manage blood lipids or levels of estrogen and testosterone. And while studies involving rats have shown promising results for both weight reduction and appetite cessation, the results have yet to be replicated in humans as we’re different from rats in many ways including how we produce fat. In addition, humans can drop out of a study before any measurable effects (e.g. on appetite) are seen, while rats can be studied indefinitely. They can continually be fed a supplement at any dose for any length of time whereby a human may feel ill and request to be removed from the research.
So, should you take Garcinia Cambogia? Evidence to date suggests that it’s nothing more than a waste of money (unless you’re a rat).
For many, eating in an organized fashion i.e. having breakfast within an hour of waking then eating every two-three hours thereafter is much easier during the week compared to the weekend. Having a more defined routine Monday-Friday that involves going to work with a scheduled lunch and breaks, getting the kids off to school and making sure they get to soccer practice can make it easier to stay on track. When this pattern stops come Friday evening or Saturday morning it can throw some people off. Less routine is one of the great things about the end of the week. But just because the weekend arrives doesn’t mean your organized eating efforts need to be negatively affected. The goal is to ensure that you do not become hungry as it can lead to unhealthy food choices and over-eating.
Below are some strategies to help you stay on track.
- Eat within one hour of waking – regardless of when you wake up. It doesn’t matter if you sleep until 9:30AM as opposed to your weekday time of 6:00AM, having the right number of calories and protein (minimum 300 calories for woman, 400 for men with 20g of protein for each) within an hour will almost certainly result in less hunger and fewer calories consumed later in the day.
- Pencil-in your meals and snacks – You may not have a plan for the day but at least make sure you know when you should be eating. Utilizing the oven timer, sticky notes, the bedroom alarm clock or your smartphone alarm or reminder feature are ways to help ensure that you don’t skip a meal or snack.
- If you are heading out, bring food with you – I’ve blogged about this before as it makes a big difference. If you know that you’ll be out running errands, be sure to take a few minutes and throw some food together. If you are used to making lunches during the week (for either yourself and/or your family), this will be a breeze. Nuts, cheese, fruit, a peanut butter sandwich, protein bars – they all work. Keep perishables cool by using an ice-pack or a frozen bottle of water.
- Keep a stocked car kit – This is in case you go out expectedly (hooray for spontaneous weekend plans!) and forget to bring food with you. Good things to keep on hand in the trunk or backseat are nuts, small cans of tuna, whole-grain crackers, and when it’s not too hot or cold out, a jar peanut butter and protein bars. Keep some disposable cutlery and napkins on hand, as well.
And remember, the weekend makes up roughly a third of the week. That’s more enough time to undo your efforts from Monday-Friday.
Mark McGill, RD
There’s a lot of information out there on nutrition. From advice on what and what not to eat to foods that cause and cure disease, it’s not surprising that so many of us are confused when it comes to what we should be putting in our mouths. Well, I’m going to try and simplify things as much possible by boiling it down to four rules for healthy eating.
- Eat real food. This means minimally processed choices like whole grains, fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, fresh lean meats, and dairy.
- Avoid partially-hydrogenated oils. These indicate the presence of artificial trans-fats that are not safe to consume in any amount. Consuming them significantly increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. They should be banned from our food supply.
- Limit overly-processed foods. Most foods are processed to some extent (slices of whole grain bread do not grown in fields) but foods that are highly processed (e.g. bleached white flour, anything “instant” such as instant oatmeal, rice, or soup, sugar and salt-laden snack foods, cured deli meats) should be kept to a minimum.
- Thoughtfully indulge. Food is more than just fuel. It is used to celebrate many of life’s milestones, Holidays and celebrations. So eat cake on your birthday and have turkey, gravy and buttery mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving!
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not exactly boiled down”. You’re right, but explaining the points is important so with that done, here’s the boiled down version:
- Eat food as close to how it exists in nature as possible.
- Avoid artificial trans fats.
- Limit overly-processed foods.
- Eat healthy foods the majority of the time but be sure to indulge when worthwhile.
Mark McGill, RD
I hear it all the time – “I was bad; I had [insert unhealthy food here].” Sure, if you are eating empty-calorie foods as often as or more often than nutritious healthy foods it’s an issue, but occasionally indulging in a piece of rhubarb pie or decadent chocolate cake is one of life’s great pleasures. Doing so doesn’t make you a bad person and you shouldn’t worry that your friendly neighbourhood dietitian will be upset with you. If they are, they’re not being sincere as everyone - including dietitians - has unhealthy foods that they enjoy from time to time. My favourite – vanilla cake topped with vanilla icing!
What I’m saying is that the majority of your diet should be comprised of whole, fresh, nutritious foods but it’s important to include treats as well. How often and how much is up to the individual; whatever amount you feel is needed to not feel deprived and to live and enjoyable, sustainable life.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as of late mainly due to my own weight gain. I’ve had some health issues and changes in my personal life that collectively, resulted in gain. A question I asked myself the other day is “Am I any less healthy than I was when I weighed less?” Biochemically, I don’t know as I haven’t done blood work in over a year. I had my blood pressure checked not too long ago and it was spot on. Physically, I feel great and that health issue is under control. I’m active and eat well the majority of the time. I have a wonderful fiancée, a great family and a career that I love. Yes, life is indeed good and I would argue that I am just as healthy now as I was before. But many only see the weight gain and may deem that I have somehow failed.
I see this many times in my office, too. Clients are doing great – they are eating healthier, have more energy, are more active, yet if the number on the scale is not where they want it to be it’s as if something is wrong.
The problem is we are bombarded with the message that it’s the pounds lost that matter above all else. “Lose 40 lbs by summer”, “get the weight off and keep it off” are “promises” made by weight loss companies and individuals alike. And while losing weight is important and will improve your health, as listed above, there are many other indicators of success. If you’ve achieved any of these, you’ve done great and should feel extremely proud. As my colleague, friend and fellow RD Diana Chard said: I think most of us could benefit from shifting our thinking about food from "losing weight" to "gaining health".
Mark McGill, RD