The biggest Banting breakfast myths busted


Get more delicious LCHF dishes in our Low-Carb recipes booklet here Get more delicious LCHF dishes in our Low-Carb recipes booklet here

The following is an extract from new book The Banting Solution.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Right? Perhaps not. 

For years we have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Unless we eat breakfast we will be running on empty, like a car with no fuel. Without breakfast, our metabolism will stall and we will miss out on the essential nutrients that we require for the day. Breakfast gives the brain the glucose it needs to function and, we are told, may even help us to maintain our ideal weight. Where did this idea originate? And is it based on sound science? In order to answer these questions, we need to ask ourselves who benefits most from us eating breakfast. Keep in mind here that this claim predates the Banting era, and that egg and bacon for breakfast is thus regarded as a huge no-no. Instead, the ‘healthy’ breakfast products pushed on us are largely sugar-coated cereals. Food manufacturers invest millions each year to try to convince us that these cereals are the essential way to start the day. Let’s take a look at some of the most pervasive myths surrounding breakfast.

Eating breakfast will help you to lose weight

Studies have shown that breakfast eating habits do not play a major role in weight loss or gain. In fact, one study showed that habitual breakfast eaters who started skipping breakfast actually lost more weight than those who usually skipped breakfast but started eating it during the study.

Breakfast gets your metabolism going

This myth has seen people force-feeding themselves breakfast and those with no appetite for breakfast being told to force it down. This flies in the face of one of Banting’s central tenets: ‘Eat to appetite’. If you are not hun- gry in the morning, your body is telling you that you do not have to eat!

Breakfast does not significantly increase your resting metabolic rate. Some studies have shown that people who eat breakfast only burn about

11 more calories a day than those who do not. Given that a woman who eats moderately will consume about 2 000 calories in a day, this figure is insignificant. Other studies have shown no change in metabolic or cardio- vascular health whether people skipped breakfast or not.

Read more: Best of Banting: 5 recipes that are too good to miss

Our bodies have evolved to work very effectively after short periods without eating (up to a few days, in fact). Studies have shown that our metabolic rate actually increases over a three-day period of fasting. One study even showed that after 74 hours of fasting, the metabolic rate only decreased by 8 per cent. This makes sense when you think about our earliest ancestors who did not have easy access to food and who had to rely on hunting. If our bodies did not respond by giving us MORE energy after a couple of days of fasting, how would we have caught our food? So, if you eat at 8 p.m. you will still be conscious at 1 p.m. the following day! Besides increasing your metabolism, a period of fasting could be good for you in that it lowers glucose and insulin levels. Insulin sensitivity is higher when your energy stores are depleted. It makes sense then that many people actually benefit from pushing ‘breakfast’ to later in the day. The longer you fast, the more your insulin sensitivity increases.

If you skip breakfast you will overeat for the rest of the day

Studies have revealed that although people who skip breakfast are indeed hungrier by lunch time, they do not eat any more than people who have eaten breakfast, and therefore actually end up eating LESS in a day than their breakfast-eating buddies.

Furthermore, although there is nothing wrong with eating breakfast, it does create a big ‘eating window’ – which is the number of hours during the day that you are consuming food. A recent study found that a larger eating window is associated with MORE fat storage and a higher chance of health problems like diabetes.

Read more: Is Cloud Bread the answer to your low-carb dreams?

Admittedly, this study was done on mice, but the research is important. One group of mice ate when they wanted to and the other group was only allowed an eight-hour window in which to eat between afternoon and night. The mice that ate at liberty gained fat and developed problems with cholesterol and blood glucose. The mice that ate only in the eight-hour window weighed 28 per cent less and had no health problems – and yes, the groups ate the same fatty foods. Scientists believe that by cutting down on your eating window, your body does a better job of metabolising the food that you eat, and burns more fat. Skipping breakfast may even prime your body to feel hungry less often. This has been seen as one of the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Eating a big breakfast will keep you full all day 

Then why do so many people complain that they are really hungry within a couple of hours of eating breakfast? We are not talking about cornflakes and toast here, but low-carb breakfasts full of great protein and fat.

People who experience post-breakfast hunger are often told to eat more, with the result that they gorge themselves to the point of nausea, overdoing the amount of food they should be eating and, very often, still feeling hungry before lunch. In clinical practice, we regularly see people gain weight this way. Their post-breakfast hunger sets in 30 minutes to two hours after breakfast, and is often accompanied by irritability and poor concentration. Interestingly, if these people eat the same meal later in the day, they don’t experience the same post-meal hunger.

Get the recipe: Low-carb banana bread

There are a number of mechanisms that may cause this post-breakfast hunger, but the most likely culprit appears to be cortisol. Cortisol, often called the ‘stress hormone’, reacts to any perceived stress, whether we are running away from a wild animal or tearing our hair out over a looming work deadline. Cortisol helps us to cope with the stress by helping us maintain focus and stay alert, and sharpening our memory recall. Cortisol also helps us get out of bed in the morning. In the early hours of the morning, as the body prepares to rise, cortisol levels begin to increase and continue to climb for about an hour, during which time you eat breakfast.

Cortisol has an effect on insulin, and high levels of cortisol, which we see around the time we eat breakfast, can exert a pronounced effect on the secretion of insulin triggered by eating.

Even a Banting breakfast will have this effect. Protein triggers an insulin response and some amino acids in protein may actually trigger a significant insulin response. With the assistance of cortisol, this insulin output can be disproportionate to the food you have eaten. This big boost of insulin can cause quite a sharp decline in blood glucose and, although not sufficiently low to be undesirable, the body perceives this rapid drop in blood glucose as dangerous and triggers a hunger signal. Why doesn’t this happen to everybody? The answer lies in insulin sensitivity. The more insulin sensitive someone is, the greater the likelihood that they will experience this problem. This does not mean that all insulin- sensitive people get hungry after breakfast or that all insulin-resistant people stay feeling full after eating a substantial breakfast. But insulin sensitivity does appear to play a key role. If you are experiencing sufficient stress in your life to raise your cortisol levels, you need to find a way to address that stress, such as meditation, exercise or massage.

What conclusion do we draw from all this?

Believing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day leads to an ‘only one way to eat’ mentality.

When you believe that a certain meal is essential, you can develop a mental block that overemphasises the importance of that meal, resulting in negative psychological responses should you not be able to maintain the habit.

Get the recipe: Banting chicken casserole with tomatoes and olives

For example, if you miss the meal you believe is essential to weight loss, you may despair because you think your fat loss has now slowed, when in fact it hasn’t. Diets should not create psychological barriers that make the journey harder. Eating should be flexible and convenient for your lifestyle.

What people seem to forget is that there is a high degree of individual variability. Breakfast is great for some and not so great for others. Theory and speculation do not invalidate individual experience and real-life results. Insisting that someone eat breakfast to achieve weight loss could be the very thing that makes it harder for him or her to lose weight. Some people feel and do better not eating breakfast, and there is no reason for them to change.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your weight-loss success hinges on any one meal.

Click here for more info and to get your copy of the Banting Solution, published by Penguin Books SA


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()