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Monday, July 17, 2000

No breakfast needed, say health heretics


Staff writer

Many people worship breakfast. They believe it is the most important meal of the day, and that skipping it causes various problems, such as fatigue, inefficiency at work and poor academic achievement in children.

Recently, however, some medical doctors have started questioning the breakfast faith. In some recently published books on diet, they assert that breakfast is not an indispensable meal for adults, and even recommend skipping it.

Shingo Kazemoto, a doctor at Yotsuya Medical Salon and author of "Atarashiku Umarekawaru Chiteki Diet (The New You Intelligent Diet)," says a conventional diet is not practical for people today.

According to conventional dietary rules supported by many nutritionists and dietitians, you should eat three well-balanced, low-fat meals per day, with dinner the lightest meal, refrain from snacking between meals and drinking alcohol, and exercise regularly.

But few people can lose weight by observing these rules, Kazemoto says. "Little energy is burned by exercise. For instance, a person weighing 50 kg burns only 80 calories in 10 minutes of jogging and 50 calories in 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, while a bowl of ramen contains 500 calories," he says. "Trying to reduce your caloric intake at lunch and dinner isn't easy either. Eating is a great comfort, and people want to release stress by eating and drinking at the end of the day. You can't enjoy meals if you're always worrying about calories."

The easiest way to cut back on calories is by skipping breakfast, Kazemoto concludes. According to his calculations, an ordinary breakfast contains about 400 calories, equivalent to 100 grams of body weight. Therefore, if a person eats no breakfast for a full month, he or she can lose 2-3 kg without any special effort. He says over 3,000 patients have succeeded in reducing weight by stopping eating breakfast under his guidance.

His "intelligent diet" rules are: drink plenty of water or another low-calorie beverage such as tea in the morning; eat a light meal with less than 500 calories for lunch, such as soba or udon noodles; eat a protein-and-vegetable-rich dinner at least three hours before going to bed; and refrain from taking milk and milk products. If you feel hungry between meals, you can drink sweetened coffee to raise your blood sugar level and suppress your craving for food, he says.

Some people believe skipping breakfast leads to overeating later in the day and consequent weight gain, but Kazemoto emphasizes that people soon become accustomed to the new routine and stop feeling hungry. He also disagrees with the common belief that sumo wrestlers become fat because they don't eat breakfast, pointing out that they put on weight due to the huge number of calories they deliberately consume at lunch and dinner.

Breakfast eaters may worry that their body and brain will not work properly if they do not refuel at the start of the day, but Kazemoto explains that the body is charged with energy while you sleep. The previous night's meal is digested and glycogen stored in the liver and muscles, to be converted into glucose when the blood sugar level drops.

Growing children, teenagers and people suffering from certain diseases such as ulcers should eat breakfast, Kazemoto says, but overweight adults can skip it with no adverse effect.

Another doctor, Sho Watanabe, insists in his new book "Choshoku Yugai Setsu (Why Eating Breakfast Is Harmful)" that skipping breakfast is much healthier than eating it. Watanabe says he raised three children on the basis of his "no breakfast" philosophy, and they have experienced no problems in their physical and mental development.

A pioneering doctor in the field of holistic medicine, Watanabe writes that many of our physical disorders stem from digestive system fatigue, since we are living in a gluttonous world. If we skip breakfast, the stomach and bowels can rest during the "short fast" and normalize their functions.

Even so, the no-breakfast diet has yet to receive recognition. Some nutritionists oppose the idea of skipping breakfast because of its value as a source of nutrition, and the lack of scientific evidence showing how skipping it affects the health of well-nourished people.

Masashige Suzuki, a professor at Tsukuba University, is one of those who disagree with skipping breakfast. If your total caloric intake per day must be reduced, he suggests taking a light lunch, such as a bowl of noodles.

He emphasizes the importance of breakfast to refuel the body every morning. "If you just sit still and do nothing during the day, you will probably be fine without breakfast. But how can you work productively with insufficient energy?" he asks. "Moreover, [if you skip breakfast] you will be extremely hungry and overeat at lunch. Dietary habits have to be something you can maintain throughout your life. Eat no breakfast and little lunch? I don't think people will be able to keep up that kind of diet for many years."

While the scientific jury remains out on the benefits of skipping breakfast, the decision whether to eat or run will remain an individual choice.



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