"Grrreat News! Cereal Eaters Weigh Less."
That's the headline of an article about a new 10-year study on breakfast cereal. The study, which was partly funded by General Mills (the cereal maker), found that adolescent girls who at cereal for breakfast weighed less than those who didn't eat cereal or didn't eat breakfast. That sounds super, until you realize how the study was conducted.
The study surveyed the eating habits of nearly 2,400 girls. Once a year for 10 years, the researchers asked the girls what they had eaten for breakfast the past three days. Those who ate breakfast had a lower body mass index – a way to measure body fat – than those who didn't eat anything. When their breakfast consisted of cereal, they had a little less fat than those who ate something other than cereal.
As the girls got older, they tended to eat breakfast less and fatty foods more. Makes sense. If you're ravenous by lunchtime you're likely to reach for foods that you know are filling.
But this wasn't a good study. It didn't differentiate between high-sugar cereals and whole grain cereals with less sugar and more fiber. And it took only a three-day snapshot out of the whole year!
Bottom line: Stay away from the junk food the food companies are passing off as a "nutritional breakfast." Instead, eat a high-quality breakfast that includes protein and whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
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By the way, if you want some guidelines on how to tell a good scientific study from a bad one, you can check the June 2004 issue of the Women's Health Letter. The same issue also has an article on Weight Loss Secrets That Really Work.
If you're a subscriber to Women's Health Letter, you can access all my back issues online. (The user name and password are in each issue of the print letter.) If you're not a subscriber, you may want to sign up now and take advantage of my large archive and searchable database.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Journal of American Dietetic Assn, September 2005.