Breakfast of Corporations

By Megan Patiry on April 7, 2014

Bagels with a spread of marketing, glasses of freshly-squeezed target sales and bowls of profit-serving promotional campaigns sound like quite the unpalatable selection of breakfasts, yet millions of Americans readily consume them by the spoonful each morning in the name of health.

But does the breakfast we know (cereals, pastries, bagels, orange juice, etc …) actually contribute to our health? And more importantly, is it really better to eat a donut or similar junk food for breakfast, since it’s “the most important meal of the day,” rather than risk our bodies falling into “starvation mode?”

The answer to these questions originates in the land of corporations, where breakfast is marketed as nourishment, for the benefit of everything but the health of the nation.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Before the rise of the agriculture industry and the subsequent dictation of breakfast food “staples” by corporate America, Americans relied on local food sources, namely local famers, and fresh, unprocessed foods that were seasonally available. The idea of “breakfast foods” held no significant meaning, as this could range from meats such as eggs or fresh beef, to local fruits and raw (unpasteurized) milk, unlike the vast array of processed pop tarts, breads and cereals with a sprinkling of artificial vitamins we consume today. So why the shift?

According to author and food historian Andrew F. Smith in AlterNet,

“Cold cereals are an invention of vegetarians and the health-food industry, first through Kellogg’s and then through C.W. Post, which steals all of Kellogg’s ideas … These companies realized early on that people like sugar, and kids really like sugar — so they shifted their sales target from adults concerned about health to kids who love sugar. It’s a thoroughly American invention.”

 In fact, John Kellogg, Michigan Seventh-Day Adventist physician and anti-masturbation activist, originally invented breakfast cereal in 1894 to provide patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan with an “anti-aphrodisiac” meatless breakfast. Sugars were then added shortly afterward by his brother and partner in order to drive sales, while other companies soon followed suit in the creation of “breakfast.”

Bagels and cream cheese remained foreign until the 1970s, and donuts were considered a dessert food until Dunkin’ Donuts labeled it a breakfast staple in the 1950s. Cheerios weren’t released by General Mills until 1941. Even yogurt,  worth over $4 billion as a health food even today, didn’t give rise until the 1970s and was typically, as it is today, loaded down with more sugar than one should consume in an entire day. Pit this against traditional yogurt making, which in Greece was made using leftover raw (full-fat) sheep’s milk from making cheese; there was no pasteurization, added sugars, corn syrup, or removal of fat. Yogurt was simply … yogurt.

Even orange juice, which seems innocent both in name and packaging, can provide a harsh lesson in the realities of industry labeling and marketing. What began in the 1930s as a “health beverage” has never truly been much more than fructose, chemicals and sugars in a bottle, with each serving containing about eight teaspoons of sugar, or almost as much as a can of soda (ten teaspoons).

Additionally, major orange juice companies such as Tropicana store the juice in giant tanks and remove its oxygen, allowing the juice to keep for up to a year without spoiling. Since this process strips the juice of its flavor compounds, the companies then proceed to hire flavor and fragrance companies–the same companies that create perfumes for brands such as Dior. They then create flavor pack formulas composed of chemicals not found in nature and that are geared to different palates. For instance, ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice, is added to many North American orange juice companies’ packs, since it’s a taste that “American’s seem to prefer.”

“Ask yourself why, like most people, you drink orange juice,” Alissa Hamilton, agriculture expert, urges in Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.

“You probably say the reason is that it is good for you, or that it is high in vitamin C, or that you grew up drinking it and like it. If so, then I must frankly tell you that, when it comes to orange juice, you are acting like a robot.”

Hamilton’s words ring true, not just in the world of orange juice drinkers, but in the world of breakfast (and most “food”) in America. The simple fact remains that most packaged, processed foods are the children of corporate monsters, designed to drive sales through catering to America’s sweet tooth; their nutritional value is null and void, and the advice I’ve seen given by nutritionists to “eat a donut rather than go without breakfast” is absolutely cause for alarm in a society with unfounded obesity levels.

But what about all those studies showing how slimmer individuals eat breakfast, and all the advice telling us we’ll crash and burn if we skip it?

Most studies of this nature are large, observational studies that rely on associations between habitual breakfast eaters and obesity with no cause and effect. Association studies contain many assumptions and downfalls. For instance, we can view the results of an observational study highlighting how breakfast-skippers typically weigh more than breakfast eaters; what this type of study doesn’t take into account is the daily eating habits of the breakfast-skipper versus the breakfast-eater.

The breakfast-skipper may be the type who skips breakfast regularly only to indulge in a Snickers bar at 11 a.m. and a lunch of McDonald’s a few hours later, followed by fried chicken in corn oil and boxed, processed mashed potatoes for dinner, while the breakfast-eater may consume a breakfast of free-range eggs with a side of fresh fruit, a lunch consisting of a green salad with chicken, and a dinner of salmon and vegetables. This is simply incomparable: there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the breakfast-eater will be healthier and thinner, yet this does not mean that eating breakfast is a requirement for health or that we should be eating donuts for breakfast if we have the option of eating nothing. However, at the end of the day, society only sees “Breakfast-Eaters Weigh Less and Are Healthier,” while they pull up to Dunkin’ Donuts.

For those worried about weight gain from not eating breakfast, lesser known studies, such as the 2002 study by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, found that in a group of participants of breakfast-eaters and non breakfast-eaters, eating or not eating breakfast had no effect on their weights.

“There was no difference between groups (non-breakfast eaters vs. breakfast eaters) in amount of weight lost (34 vs. 32 kg, p = 0.14) or in duration of weight-loss maintenance (7.7 vs. 7.9 years, p = 0.29). Furthermore, there was not a significant difference in self-reported energy intake between groups,” the study claimed.

Many are also concerned that skipping breakfast will cause weight gain due to the myth that eating more meals increases metabolic rate, and therefore increases fat burn. A study on meal frequencies and the Thermic Effect of Food published in 1997 found, ”Studies using whole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24h energy expenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging.”

This reiterates that there is no difference between whether one consumes many small meals throughout the day or instead consumes 2-3 larger meals on the amount of energy our bodies use in a given day. Packaged food companies simply spread the myth that we need to eat six to eight times a day in order to drive sales, since most Americans don’t have the time to cook or prepare for many meals a day and therefore rely on processed bars and shakes.

However, weight loss and weight gain aren’t the only concerns accompanying skipping breakfast; many individuals eat the donut (or other sugary substitute) in fear of a blood sugar crash or low energy throughout the day, as propagated by food corporations and the government. On the contrary, the human body is an amazingly efficient organism, and would not have survived and adapted were this information even partially correct. Martin Berkhan of LeanGains cites how,

“It would take no less than three days or 84 hours of fasting to reach blood sugar levels low enough to affect your mental state; and this is temporary, as your brain adapts to the use of ketones. During 48 hours of fasting, or severe calorie deprivation, blood sugar is maintained within a normal range; no measure of cognitive performance is negatively affected.”

Studies also show a lowered metabolic rate only after 60 hours of fasting, and some actually show a rise in metabolic rate when fasting. According to an article by Berkhan, this increase is between 3.6 percent-10 percent after 36-48 hours. Berkhan discusses how this would have been advantageous from an evolutionary perspective, seeing as an increased metabolic rate (and increased epinephrine and norepenephrine) would have “sharpened the mind” for kills and the search for food.

Here we can see the fears regarding skipping breakfast, or any meal, are nearly completely unfounded and based on corporate interests to sell more product. Now many individuals argue that (considering “conflicting studies”) any food can be horrible, and therefore continue to eat processed, packaged foods in defiance of science not knowing the answer.

The bottom line – one many do not want to hear – is that sound nutrition relies on simple, whole foods in their natural state. This includes foods that do not need to be processed, flavored with artificial flavors, have sugars added, or fat removed. Ancestral dietary habits practiced before the mass production of “staple” processed foods hold the key to health and nourish the body with foods it recognizes, not mere chemicals and sugars dressed up in pretty packaging.

On that note, we need a national movement to truly educate the population, not just educate it in a way that turns profits. We need chemical “orange juice” to become an orange, for “veggie chips” to become fresh vegetables, and for “yogurt” to become actual yogurt free of sugars and corn syrup.  We need breakfast “staples,” and all meals, for that matter, to move from packaged and sugar-laden to fresh and in their natural state.

We need to skip the donut.

Megan is a freelance writer, organic foodie, health activist, and spontaneous traveler. She also has a passion for adventure, hiking, yoga, and paradoxically, chocolate in all its raw, gluten-free forms.

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