Bacon Or Bagels? Higher Fat At Breakfast May Be Healthier Than You Think


The age-old maxim “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” may in fact be the best advice to follow to prevent metabolic syndrome, according to a new University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, insulin resistance and other cardiovascular disease-risk factors.

The study, published online March 30 in the International Journal of Obesity, examined the influence exerted by the type of foods and specific timing of intake on the development of metabolic syndrome characteristics in mice. The UAB research revealed that mice fed a meal higher in fat after waking had normal metabolic profiles. In contrast, mice that ate a more carbohydrate-rich diet in the morning and consumed a high-fat meal at the end of the day saw increased weight gain, adiposity, glucose intolerance and other markers of the metabolic syndrome.

“Studies have looked at the type and quantity of food intake, but nobody has undertaken the question of whether the timing of what you eat and when you eat it influences body weight, even though we know sleep and altered circadian rhythms influence body weight,” said the study’s lead author Molly Bray, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health.

Bray said the research team found that fat intake at the time of waking seems to turn on fat metabolism very efficiently and also turns on the animal’s ability to respond to different types of food later in the day. When the animals were fed carbohydrates upon waking, carbohydrate metabolism was turned on and seemed to stay on even when the animal was eating different kinds of food later in the day.

“The first meal you have appears to program your metabolism for the rest of the day,” said study senior author Martin Young, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Cardiovascular Disease. “This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilization throughout the rest of the day, whereas, if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you have metabolic plasticity to transfer your energy utilization between carbohydrate and fat.”

Bray and Young said the implications of this research are important for human dietary recommendations. Humans rarely eat a uniform diet throughout the day and need the ability to respond to alterations in diet quality. Adjusting dietary composition of a given meal is an important component in energy balance, and they said their findings suggest that recommendations for weight reduction and/or maintenance should include information about the timing of dietary intake plus the quality and quantity of intake.

“Humans eat a mixed diet, and our study, which we have repeated four times in animals, seems to show that if you really want to be able to efficiently respond to mixed meals across a day then a meal in higher fat content in the morning is a good thing,” Bray said. “Another important component of our study is that, at the end of the day, the mice ate a low-caloric density meal, and we think that combination is key to the health benefits we’ve seen.”

Bray and Young said further research needs to test whether similar observations are made with different types of dietary fats and carbohydrates, and it needs to be tested in humans to see if the findings are similar between rodents and humans.

“We’re also working on a study right now to determine if these feeding regimens adversely affect heart function,” Young said.

Bray et al. Time-of-day-dependent dietary fat consumption influences multiple cardiometabolic syndrome parameters in mice. International Journal of Obesity, 2010

University of Alabama at Birmingham (2010, April 1). Bacon or bagels? Higher fat at breakfast may be healthier than you think. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/03/100330161751.htm


  1. This was very interesting to me as I am currently attempting to eat 500 calories daily.
    I am 5’10” , 64 yrs of age, have fatty liver disease and want to lose ~ 40lbs more.
    I lost 40 # and have kept it off 1 1/2 yrs ago on a vegan and no oil diet. This new diet
    is the HCG diet using linguinal drops. It says to have a few carbs (breadsticks @ breakfast, a fruit snack, 3.2 oz. lean protein + 3 cups complex carbs @ lunch and
    another fruit snack if desired, ending up with a duplicate dinner as the lunch, just not
    eating the same thing. Also one lemon and ~ 64 oz. of water per day plus coffee and tea.
    No oil or sugar of any kind are allowed except the natural sugar of the fruit or vegies.
    This is a fairly popular diet, I understand.
    I was wondering, using according to your research, if the order of the food ingested was
    changed around, people would lose more weight or lose it more rapidly which always gives them more incentive to continue dieting.
    Thanks for reading my comment,
    Nancy Aberg

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I’m somewhat familiar with this diet, which is based on the work of Dr. Simeon. I don’t think the order of the food being consumed is of importance. The real heavy lifting is being accomplished by the HCG, which is supposed to suppress appetite while increasing the transport of triglycerides from fat cells so it can be metabolized in muscle cells. If course, the very low calorie diet will also lead to weight loss, but in this case the HCG helps to target fat (especially visceral fat) while sparing muscle tissues.

    The core process of mobilizing fats from storage is easily interrupted by the consumption of any dietary fats or oils, which is why the diet is restricted to lean proteins. Same with carbs – since carbs rapidly convert into blood sugar, and blood sugar metabolization turns off fatty acid oxidation, the diet allows for a selection of fruits and vegetables, while eschewing high glycemic index fruits and veggies (i.e., potatoes, carrots, bananas, etc.) that cause blood sugars to elevate.

    Again, from what I’ve read, the order of the foods eaten is of very little, if any, importance.


    Jim English

  3. Dear Nancy,

    This is not our research, but a report published in Science Daily about research done at the University of Alabama at Brimingham: ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from /releases/2010/03/100330161751.htm

    It is published in the hope that you find it useful, but is not our research.

    As to dramatically restricting calories in a diet, it is something you should be careful about, as it can be very dangerous at your age. You could easily lose lean muscle and bone tissue that you cannot recover. Better is to eat more calories than are on the HCG diet and exercise carefully, emphasizing mild strength building exercises to preserve or gain muscle, reduce insulin resistance in the liver and muscles and improve fat metabolism.

    See this study published in Science Daily: American Physiological Society (2008, September 22). Older People Who Diet Without Exercising Lose Valuable Muscle Mass. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from¬ /releases/2008/09/080917095349.htm

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