6 breakfast habits that may be shortening your life, according to science

  • Breakfast is often called 'the most important meal of the day'.
  • Despite this, many people skip this meal.
  • To fuel your tank for the day, it's important you eat the right foods.

We’ve often been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and there is evidence supporting this. Many studies have linked eating a healthy breakfast to good health - from better memory and concentration to a lower risk of getting diabetes and heart disease.

But there are also unhealthy breakfast (and lifestyle) choices that may negatively impact your health. Below, we list six breakfast habits to avoid as they may be shortening your life, according to science.

1- Fruit juice

Drinking an extra half glass of fruit juice a day can spike your diabetes by 16%, a 2019 Harvard University study found. Data from more than 190 000 men and women were analysed in the study. 

"The study results are in line with current recommendations to replace sugary beverages with non-caloric beverages free of artificial sweeteners," explained senior study author, professor Frank Hu.

"Although fruit juices contain some nutrients, their consumption should be moderated."

READ MORE | Why the ‘100% fruit juice’ label is a lie

2 - Skip the bacon, processed meats

Eating just one piece of bacon daily is associated with increasing your risk of colorectal cancer. 

Researchers of a 2019 study found that processed meat, such as sausages or bacon, posed a bigger risk than red meat. According to the findings, eating 25 grams of processed meat - roughly equivalent to a thin slice of bacon - increases your risk of colorectal (colon) cancer by 20%.

Colon cancer is among the top three cancers for both men and women in South Africa. According to the 2019 National Cancer Register, one in 77 males and 1 in 132 females were diagnosed with the disease. 

3 - Grapefruit can interact with popular medications

There are some common medications that negatively, and sometimes dangerously, interact with grapefruit and grapefruit juice.

For example, unprocessed grapefruit can cause a drug interaction with felodipine, which is used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension).

READ MORE | Yes, you can reheat food more than once. Here’s why

According to Harvard Health, grapefruit can also mean danger when combined with some popular drugs used for high cholesterol and depression.

“Doctors are not sure which of the hundreds of chemicals in grapefruit are responsible. The leading candidate is furanocoumarin. It is also found in Seville (sour) oranges and tangelos; although these fruits have not been studied in detail, the guidelines for grapefruit should apply to them as well,” it explains.

4 - Skipping breakfast may lead to weight gain

Whether it’s because we don’t feel hungry in the morning, our usual day begins busy, or we want to stay under the duvet to get a few more hours of rest, millions of people skip breakfast.

This meta-analysis concluded that skipping breakfast increases the risk of being overweight or obesity - a major contributor to the global burden of disease.

Another review confirmed that “in real-world settings, breakfast skipping might lead to weight gain and the onset of overweight and obesity.” 

The underlying belief is that skipping this meal causes you to become very hungry, so you end up overeating later in the day.

However, the belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been contested. While there are studies suggesting the link above, others have argued that we should pay more attention to what and how much we eat in the day. 

One four-month-long study also found no difference in weight between groups who had eaten breakfast and those who had skipped it. In the end, no significant difference was noted. While skipping breakfast makes you eat more later in the day, more studies are needed to confirm the link between overweight and obesity.

5 - Drinking black coffee

Drinking strong, black coffee before having breakfast can have a negative effect on blood sugar control – a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. This was according to the findings of a 2020 study by scientists at the University of Bath (UK).

"We know that nearly half of us will wake in the morning and, before doing anything else, drink coffee – intuitively, the more tired we feel, the stronger the coffee," said co-author professor James Betts.

"Put simply; our blood sugar control is impaired when the first thing our bodies come into contact with is coffee, especially after a night of disrupted sleep.”

READ MORE | Why does coffee make you poop?

While the researchers used black coffee for their experiment, Betts told CNN that the same effect would likely be seen with a latte or flat white.

6 - Skipping breakfast may lead to heart-related death

The first study to evaluate breakfast’s impact on the risk of cardiovascular death found that people who never ate breakfast had an 87% higher risk of death caused by cardiovascular disease compared with those who ate breakfast every day. 

Lead researcher of the 2019 study, professor Wei Bao, said that early-morning calories jumpstart our body’s metabolism and give us the energy and nutrients needed to start the day. 

Despite the evidence on this, Bao, who is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, added that fewer people report they are making the meal a part of their daily routine.

Eating healthy

Want to start off the day with a little more va-va-voom? 

Registered dietician Cara Harbstreet previously told Women’s Health that breakfast is traditionally a “starchy paradise”, which includes white toast, muffins, croissants, pancakes and doughnuts - but that what we should instead aim for is a balanced meal that includes lean protein, healthy fats and fibre-rich carbs.

Eggs, Greek yoghurt and lean breakfast meats give your body the building blocks for strong bones and muscles, advises registered dietician Kristina LaRue. Other healthy options are overnight oats, baked oats and veggie hash.

Healthy fats such as nut butters, avocado and olive oil are also good options as your body needs fat to absorb vitamins in your food, and they’ll also help you feel fuller for longer, says LaRue.

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