Posted by: Bystander PJ17 JUL 2013
I commented recently on an NHS leaflet that offered advice on better eating but merely repeated beliefs for which there is scant evidence, such as the claim that we need to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (PJ, 8 June, 2013, p684). Another tip asserts that we should routinely eat three meals a day, despite a lack of convincing evidence that skipping meals presents any real risk to normal healthy adults.
Nutritionists claim that a hearty breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if that is the case, why does research show that most of us are disinclined to stuff ourselves early in the morning?
After analysing the eating habits of 2,800 people, researchers at Harvard Medical School somehow concluded that breakfast is a good thing. But their most clear-cut finding was that overall only 47 per cent of white people and 22 per cent of black people eat breakfast every day.
Surely the fact that so many of us tend to forgo breakfast suggests that an early morning meal is not a physiological necessity? Our early ancestors certainly did not sit down to three regular meals a day, and no other mammals eat at fixed intervals.
The concept of the hearty breakfast (like “five-a-day”) is derived from a US marketing ploy. Food shortages during the 1939–45 war led to many US families adopting a light breakfast. After the war, the pork and poultry industries wanted to boost sales and employed a public relations pioneer, Edward Bernays (a nephew of Sigmund Freud), whose choice technique was to promote his clients’ causes by using “third party authorities”.
Bernays concocted a statement alleging that a panel of physicians had endorsed heavy breakfasts. He sent this report to thousands of physicians, along with publicity touting a breakfast of bacon and eggs. He also wrote countless press releases, which newspapers and magazines often published unedited (to their shame). Before long, bacon and eggs was the standard US breakfast.