The cover of Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal symbolises the author’s warning perfectly, a shark’s fin of breakfast cereal traversing a bowl of milk. Professor Terence Kealey has a PhD in biochemistry and a history in clinical research, in 2001-2014 he was Vice Chancellor at Buckingham University, today he is a visiting scholar at the Cato Institutein Washington, D.C. focussing on food policy. The first hundred pages of Kealey’s book is an encyclopaedic look at the history of eating breakfast, the commercialisation of breakfast and the vested interests of advice and research, busting the myths that breakfast is good for us and how the opposite is true.
The really fascinating part is when Kealey gets forensically scientific about the dangers of carbohydrates and added sugar in the Western diet, he dissects a chronology of reputable international scientific research on diet, cause and effect; he suggests and explains why the authorities that have been trusted to give health advice have misled the populous with health hazardous results.
Kealey describes insulin as the modern plagueand a mass killer, he introduces a condition called insulin-resistanceand its deadly result the metabolic syndrome.Insulin he describes as an essential hormone but in excess it is a killer, in more ways than one (in that insulin induced cell proliferation can lead to cancer and atherosclerosis). The Western breakfast with sweet cereal, croissants, toast and jams is a source of that excess, as blood glucose levels are highest when we rise eating such breakfasts raises these to dangerous levels.
For bio-chemistsand general practitionersthe central part of the book is a must read, Kealey’s didactic analysis on circadian/diurnal rhythms, the role of cortisol and free fatty acids all point to the benefits of skipping breakfast.
Diabetes and obesity or diabesity as he appropriately callsthe combination, is the big new C21st disease anda focus of the second part of his oeuvre, it seems both the content and the timing of a sugary carbohydrate break fast are contributing factors to diabesity. The World Health Organisation has recognised obesity as an epidemic in the West with diabetes close behind, both are precipitated by and attributable to over-eating. The Westernisation and carbo-hydratisation of breakfast of the traditional first meal of the day is responsible posits Kealey, empirically and emphatically. He scrutinises almost every Western study into diabetes that has ever been conducted, his evidence is gathered from global sources and studies in locations as diverse as Poland, China and Iran; reaching back in time, two of the medics that Kealey credits with prescience and accuracy are Sir William Osler (1849-1919) who understood early that carbohydrate should only represent 5% of a diabetic’s diet. Kealey laments that Sushruta’s, the father of Indian medicine, Sushruta Sambita never reached the West as in the fifth century AD Sushruta described accurately the two types of diabetes mellitus.
Industrialisation, mass production, technology and marketing have led to mass consumerism of fast, junk and processed foods/drinks and have subliminally changed the culture of eating healthily.
Kealey writes all this through his personal lens of being diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes in 2010;Kealey has arrested what his doctor said was a progressive disease, he follows an 8-hour diet, which is a window for vegetarian eating of eight hours beginning at noon, the rest of the day’s cycle is for fasting. He eschews potatoes, pasta, rice and bread, he recommends full fat dairy products, not low-fat; although for non-vegetarians eggs, chicken and fish are judiciously permissible, and for everyone daily exercise is a must.
This book is a wonderful easy read with nuggets of wisdom from Socrates, Shakespeare and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche interspersed with the scientific narrative. His conclusions are that both types of diabetes are reversible, but folks and governments have to make the effort to educate themselves and act accordingly.
‘Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal’, by Terence Kealey is published by 4th Estate