Eat Fat for Breakfast!

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Forget about black coffee and dry toast if you’re trying to lose weight and get healthier — the best way to begin your day is with a hearty breakfast, one that includes fats. Yes, fats! If you choose healthy fats, a high-fat breakfast actually serves to jump-start your metabolism so that you can more efficiently process food from dawn to dusk, say researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Their findings suggest that loading some fats onto your morning plate can help prevent metabolic syndrome — a dangerous mixture of belly fat, insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides and other risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

High-Fat Trumps High-Carb

In the UAB study, researchers fed mice either a high-fat (45% fat) or high-carbohydrate breakfast (10% fat). Mice given the high-fat breakfast subsequently had a high-carbohydrate dinner, while the ones that consumed a high-carbohydrate breakfast had a high-fat dinner. (The mice were not given lunch.) In this way, all received the same number of calories from fat and carbohydrates respectively (as well as total calories) over the course of the day.

Investigators found that…

  • A high-fat breakfast activated fat metabolism. Mice that ate most of their fat at breakfast had better metabolic markers — including body weight, glucose tolerance and blood insulin and triglyceride levels — compared with mice that ate most of their fat at dinner.
  • A high-carbohydrate breakfast switched off fat metabolism. Mice that ate heavy carbohydrates in the morning and heavy fat at dinner experienced weight gain, increased body fat, glucose intolerance and other signs of metabolic syndrome.

“The first meal seemed to ‘program’ their metabolisms very effectively for the rest of the day,” said senior study author Martin E. Young, PhD, associate professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease. In other words, it prepared their bodies to efficiently break down fats and other foods. In contrast, a carb-rich breakfast seemed to prime the mice’s bodies to break down primarily carbs, leaving fats to build up — something we humans definitely don’t want.

These results were published in the March 30, 2010, issue of the International Journal of Obesity. Other evidence, previously published, suggests these findings may apply to people as well — and studies are ongoing to improve our understanding of time-of-day consumption of fats and carbohydrates in humans, says Dr. Young.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

In the meantime, remember that not all fats are created equal. The high-fat breakfast study does not suggest that we should wolf down bacon, sausage and cheese blintzes every morning. Much more healthful fats include nut butters (almond butter on whole-grain bread is delicious)… whole-milk yogurt (sprinkle ground flaxseeds on top for their healthful omega-3 essential fatty acids)… or even a Japanese-style breakfast with broiled salmon.


Martin E. Young, PhD, associate professor of medicine, UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease, University of Alabama at Birmingham.