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Whole grains and protein, part of a complete breakfast

"Eat Your Oatmeal! Study Finds That A Bowl A Day May Keep The Grim Reaper Away,” screams a headline reporting on a study by researchers at Harvard University.

"Eat Your Oatmeal! Study Finds That a Bowl a Day May Keep the Grim Reaper Away,' screams a headline reporting on a study by researchers at Harvard University. Somewhat overly optimistic, given that there is pretty good evidence that the Reaper eventually gets us no matter what we have for breakfast. But according to this study, we may be able to put off his inevitable visit, even without oatmeal. The study did not investigate oatmeal per se, rather it dealt with the consumption of whole grains.

The Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up study that followed over 110,000 subjects for 25 years have provided Walter Willett and colleagues at Harvard with a wealth of information. Initially free of heart disease, the participants filled out periodic questionnaires about diet and various lifestyle factors. Close to 27,000 died during the study, and after adjusting for confounders such as age, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, the researchers concluded that higher whole grain intake was associated with lower mortality. And the effect wasn’t marginal.

Total mortality was reduced by 5 per cent and deaths from heart disease by 9 per cent during the 25 years spanned by the study. Since bran intake had a similar protective effect and cereal germ intake did not, the results imply that the benefits seen can be attributed to whole grains. And how much do we have to eat to see a reduction in mortality? About 30 grams, which is not a lot. That’s roughly the common serving size for whole grain cereals.

So how does oatmeal fit into this? It’s just an example of a whole grain, perhaps the reporter’s favourite. Although this study did not look at oats in particular, many others have, because oats contain beta-glucan, a form of soluble fibre that has been shown to lower cholesterol. Indeed, when Chinese researchers gave subjects with moderately elevated cholesterol either 100 grams of instant oat cereal or 100 grams of wheat flour-based noodles for six weeks, they found that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased by seven and nine per cent respectively, which is significant. An added benefit was a decrease in waist circumference of about 1.3 centimetres (half an inch), while the noodle eaters slightly increased their waist circumference. The researchers concluded that increased consumption of whole grains, including oats, should be encouraged.

I’m all for that. Steel-cut oatmeal, or oat bran, with berries or other fruits, along with some Greek yogurt is my favourite for starting off the day. Indeed, the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day actually has some traction. It turns out that what is eaten for breakfast has an effect on the ups and downs of blood glucose for the rest of the day. And that is important because fluctuations in blood glucose stress the pancreas and increase the chance of developing diabetes. Furthermore, a skimpy breakfast not only reduces energy levels throughout the morning, it increases the chance of overeating at lunch.

Unfortunately, some people think that skipping breakfast is helpful for weight loss. After all, no breakfast means no calories. But studies show that this is not an effective strategy. Breakfast skippers are more prone to “Night Eating Syndrome,” and moderately overweight women have been shown to lose more weight when they consume 70 per cent of their daily calories before noon instead of the afternoon or evening. To further boost the arguments for a good breakfast, we can look at studies that show people who do not eat breakfast have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. They also may be less creative and slower at processing information in the morning.

Now that we know how important breakfast is, we can get down to the nuts and bolts of what it should be. I like oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, but there’s no magic formula. First, breakfast should not be meagre: 400-500 calories is a ballpark figure. But what we don’t want is a lot of sugar. No more than about 10 grams. What we do want is whole grains and some protein. Roughly 25-35 grams of protein in the morning stabilizes blood glucose, increases satiety and reduces calorie consumption during the rest of the day.

While cereals that are low in sugar are available, they generally contain only a few grams of protein. Plain Greek yogurt is a good choice for increasing protein intake because a serving has 20-25 grams and generally less than 10 grams of sugar. It is available in a no-fat version. Some whole grain toast with almond butter, and you’ve got a breakfast that nutritional scientists would drool over.

  Dr Joe Schwarcz

"Eat Your Oatmeal! Study Finds That a Bowl a Day May Keep the Grim Reaper Away,' screams a headline reporting on a study by researchers at Harvard University. Somewhat overly optimistic, given that there is pretty good evidence that the Reaper eventually gets us no matter what we have for breakfast. But according to this study, we may be able to put off his inevitable visit, even without oatmeal. The study did not investigate oatmeal per se, rather it dealt with the consumption of whole grains.

The Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up study that followed over 110,000 subjects for 25 years have provided Walter Willett and colleagues at Harvard with a wealth of information. Initially free of heart disease, the participants filled out periodic questionnaires about diet and various lifestyle factors. Close to 27,000 died during the study, and after adjusting for confounders such as age, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, the researchers concluded that higher whole grain intake was associated with lower mortality. And the effect wasn’t marginal.

Total mortality was reduced by 5 per cent and deaths from heart disease by 9 per cent during the 25 years spanned by the study. Since bran intake had a similar protective effect and cereal germ intake did not, the results imply that the benefits seen can be attributed to whole grains. And how much do we have to eat to see a reduction in mortality? About 30 grams, which is not a lot. That’s roughly the common serving size for whole grain cereals.

So how does oatmeal fit into this? It’s just an example of a whole grain, perhaps the reporter’s favourite. Although this study did not look at oats in particular, many others have, because oats contain beta-glucan, a form of soluble fibre that has been shown to lower cholesterol. Indeed, when Chinese researchers gave subjects with moderately elevated cholesterol either 100 grams of instant oat cereal or 100 grams of wheat flour-based noodles for six weeks, they found that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol decreased by seven and nine per cent respectively, which is significant. An added benefit was a decrease in waist circumference of about 1.3 centimetres (half an inch), while the noodle eaters slightly increased their waist circumference. The researchers concluded that increased consumption of whole grains, including oats, should be encouraged.

I’m all for that. Steel-cut oatmeal, or oat bran, with berries or other fruits, along with some Greek yogurt is my favourite for starting off the day. Indeed, the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day actually has some traction. It turns out that what is eaten for breakfast has an effect on the ups and downs of blood glucose for the rest of the day. And that is important because fluctuations in blood glucose stress the pancreas and increase the chance of developing diabetes. Furthermore, a skimpy breakfast not only reduces energy levels throughout the morning, it increases the chance of overeating at lunch.

Unfortunately, some people think that skipping breakfast is helpful for weight loss. After all, no breakfast means no calories. But studies show that this is not an effective strategy. Breakfast skippers are more prone to “Night Eating Syndrome,” and moderately overweight women have been shown to lose more weight when they consume 70 per cent of their daily calories before noon instead of the afternoon or evening. To further boost the arguments for a good breakfast, we can look at studies that show people who do not eat breakfast have a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. They also may be less creative and slower at processing information in the morning.

Now that we know how important breakfast is, we can get down to the nuts and bolts of what it should be. I like oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, but there’s no magic formula. First, breakfast should not be meagre: 400-500 calories is a ballpark figure. But what we don’t want is a lot of sugar. No more than about 10 grams. What we do want is whole grains and some protein. Roughly 25-35 grams of protein in the morning stabilizes blood glucose, increases satiety and reduces calorie consumption during the rest of the day.

While cereals that are low in sugar are available, they generally contain only a few grams of protein. Plain Greek yogurt is a good choice for increasing protein intake because a serving has 20-25 grams and generally less than 10 grams of sugar. It is available in a no-fat version. Some whole grain toast with almond butter, and you’ve got a breakfast that nutritional scientists would drool over.

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