How many of my readers eat breakfast every day? After all, it is the most important meal of the day. It helps you wake up and gives you energy for the rest of your activities. I mean, that’s common knowledge, right? Or is it? Surely I’m not going to suggest that the wisdom of our ancestors is wrong, am I?
Well, as with many things in the common American psyche, this idea is a product of that most insidious of media – marketing.
Up until the 17th century, eating breakfast was considered morally wrong. After all, what kind of a glutton do you have to be to wake up and immediately want food? However, farmers and other laborers would require some food before going to work. They would mostly eat leftovers and preserved food, sometimes eggs just laid by their chickens. But with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, people needed fewer calories to go about their jobs. Eating the same breakfasts as before, more and more people began to suffer indigestion from overeating. Thus, there was a need for lighter breakfast foods. Enter the humble cereal.
In 1876, none other than John Harvey Kellogg began experimenting with the idea of cornflakes as a cereal for breakfast. He was improving upon the ideas of the earlier James Caleb Jackson. Both were devout Puritans who thought that living a moral life included eating simple, bland foods. They began large advertising pushes to convince Americans to eat their cereals.
A few decades later, Edward Barnays jumped on this idea to push sales of bacon and eggs, and develop breakfast into a more full meal. Presenting his work as scientific studies, he convinced people to add more items to the narrow breakfast menu.
As a result of all this, the notion that people should eat breakfast has been implanted deep into the American culture. It has also significantly limited the number of dishes we see as “breakfast foods”. In other cultures, options for breakfast are much more broad. For example, in Japan, a breakfast might consist of rice, grilled fish, and a bowl of miso soup. Whereas in the U.S., having waffles for dinner would certainly raise some eyebrows.
Kellogg’s still pushes breakfast as “the most important meal“, and many studies have been done to try to show this. However, these primarily tend to be observational studies, not clinical trials. Ultimately, whether or not you should eat breakfast depends entirely on your lifestyle and other health choices.
The big takeaway from this, I think, is that we should all be careful that things we think of as common proverbs and life advice isn’t just an attempt to get us to buy more cornflakes.
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