Is the importance of eating breakfast overrated? No way!

Q: I read recently that it doesn't matter if you have breakfast. This contradicts everything I've heard for years. Can you sort this out for me? — Carey J., Pierre, S.D.

A: We're glad you asked about the recent rash of stories headlined, “Breakfast might NOT be the most important meal of the day,” and “Benefits of breakfast called into question.” Those headlines misrepresent the dual studies (from Alabama's University of Birmingham and Bath University in England), but even accurately reported, they still have some serious holes in them!

The researchers were not evaluating overall health, mental acuity or mood — all of which are affected by eating or not eating breakfast. They were interested only in seeing if eating or skipping breakfast made any difference in short-term weight loss, cholesterol levels or metabolic rates. They never intended to knock breakfast off your plate (one of the researchers is quoted in a press release as saying, “It is certainly true that people who regularly eat breakfast tend to be slimmer and healthier”).

They also looked at only 300 overweight and 33 normal-weight participants, and didn't keep track of exactly what people ate for breakfast or what they ate for the rest of the day.

So here's our take: A healthy breakfast (no super-sweetened cereals, syrupy pancakes or glazed doughnuts!) is a smart choice to get the day started and to sustain you throughout the morning. Study after study, including one by our friends at Case Western Reserve, show that kids and adults who have a nutritious breakfast have more energy, better mental focus, perform better at school or work and eat more healthfully throughout the day. So dish up 100 percent whole-grain cereal. On some days, include lean protein from nonfat dairy, fish or skinless poultry; always have fresh fruit and a couple of glasses of water — and coffee, if you enjoy it.

Q: I hear that my gut bacteria actually affect what I feel like eating. So, can I get them to stop sending me to the drive-thru? Seriously. I need help changing my diet. — Shirley U., Macon, Georgia

A: You heard right! The trillions of bacteria that inhabit your intestines have powers of persuasion that can influence even the most strong-willed person! Turns out some of those little fellas thrive on sugars, some on proteins, others on fats, and they each want you to serve up their favorite feast — all the time. To get your attention, they send out molecular signals that influence your endocrine system (that's hormones) and your nervous system (brain, emotions, even appetite and taste). And if one “eat this, not that” message overwhelms the others, that can change how you behave and how your body functions.

New research indicates that the bacteria's messages travel on a superhighway to your brain (and body) through the vagus nerve, which links 100 million nerve cells in your digestive tract with your brain. The good news is that your balance of gut bacteria can change in 24 to 72 hours, depending on what you consume.

We believe it's possible to help reverse obesity and fend off IBS and IBD, some cancers, depression and even food allergies by changing your gut biome with prebiotics (food that the beneficial bacteria love — like garlic and leeks) and probiotics (lactobacillus and others). So, if you want to stop getting pushed around by your biome, here's our bacteria bully defense strategy:

1. Give up red meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb and processed meats), and reduce animal protein to 3-6 ounces a day. 2. Eat 100 percent whole grains, including wheat, rice, barley and quinoa; get nine servings of fruits and veggies a day. 3. Take a smart mix of supplements: Too much of some (like choline) can throw your biome out of whack. 4. Take a daily probiotic supplement that contains a spore form of bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 or lactobacillus GG. Be your best biome.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.

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