Fasters can be a smug lot. I know, I’m one of them. As someone who follows a 16-8 protocol, five days a week, I often catch myself feeling self-satisfied about the reported hormonal benefits – lower insulin levels, spikes in human growth hormone, greater cell repair and enhanced gene expression – humming away inside me. I’m also prone to being a little casual about the eight-hour feeding window, often feeling that having deprived myself for so long, I have a licence to eat whatever I feel like.
Well, if like me, you’re a 16:8 disciple, that morning sacrifice could come back to haunt you. A study at Ohio State University has found adults who skip breakfast are likely to miss out on key nutrients that are most abundant in the foods that make up morning meals.
In the study, researchers analysed data on more than 30,000 American adults, finding that skipping breakfast – and missing out on the calcium in milk, vitamin C in fruit, and the fibre, vitamins and minerals found in fortified cereals – likely left people low on those nutrients for the rest of the day.
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“What we’re seeing is that if you don’t eat the foods that are commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day. So those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap,” says study author Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics in the College of Medicine at Ohio State University.
In the study, breakfast skippers were found to take in less fibre, magnesium, copper, zinc, folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D, than those who ate a traditional morning meal.
The other issue for those that eschew breakfast is that you’re more likely to indulge in poor quality snacks. Breakfast skippers were more likely than those who ate in the morning to eat more added sugars, carbohydrates and total fat over the course of the day, in part because of higher levels of snacking, the researchers say. As someone who tends to hammer chocolate-coated protein bars during my eating window, this point really hit home.
“Snacking is basically contributing a meal’s worth of calorie intakes for people who skipped breakfast,” Taylor says. “People who ate breakfast ate more total calories than people who didn’t eat breakfast, but the lunch, dinner and snacks were much larger for people who skipped breakfast and tended to be of a lower diet quality.”
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It is perhaps worth remembering the literal meaning of breakfast: break-your-fast. If you are following a 16-8 protocol in which you don’t eat until say, 11am, you may be best to make sure that first meal is comprised of more traditional ‘breakfast’ foods – toast, fruit, cereal with milk etc – rather than break your fast with a snack (I literally just ate a bowl of muesli).
In addition, be mindful of the nutritional quality of the snacks you consume throughout the day. As noted, while it can be tempting to view your eight-hour eating window as a nutritional free-for-all, in doing so you’re likely undermining your efforts. By making a conscious attempt to make your snacks nutritionally sound – fruit, nuts, natural yoghurt are all good choices – you increase your chances of accessing vital nutrients while still benefitting from the hormonal shifts prolonged fasting produces. Do that and you may actually have cause to be smug.