Breastfeeding, IQ & breakfast

photo: tiarescott via Flickr

photo: tiarescott via Flickr

There isn’t much downside to breastfeeding.  It’s convenient, inexpensive and the best nutritional choice for newborn babies. It can help moms lose some of the weight gained in pregnancy.  So it’s good news that the number of babies who are breastfed at birth rose to 77% in the latest survey.  At 6 months, almost half of babies are still nursing.

Medical care costs for breastfed infants can be lower, because these babies have fewer ear infections and digestive complaints.  But does breastfeeding cause higher IQs and lower obesity rates?  A new study suggests that prolonged breastfeeding is linked to better language and cognition skills and higher intelligence scores at ages 3 and 7 years.  One researcher concluded that breastfeeding until age 1 year could raise IQ by 4 points.

While the study tried to control for all those other variables that influence a decision to start breastfeeding and continue it for a year, it’s not possible to recognize all those factors.  A mother may be forced to give up breastfeeding and return to work, reducing her time to interact with her baby.  Instead, the baby is put in daycare where there is little intellectual stimulation.  So was it the lack of breast milk?  Or was it the decrease in interaction with an attentive parent?

There’s another very important consideration: when breastfeeding is discontinued, what does the baby eat?  A baby consuming a high quality formula may do better than one that is switched directly to milk and solid food.  Formula is intended to mimic the nutrients in breast milk, but a mixed diet of milk and baby foods may end up being nutritionally unbalanced, which could affect brain development.  More on this in the podcast.

Does breakfast make you fat?  Or help with weight loss?  Breakfast is under attack from certain diet enthusiasts on the internet, who claim it’s the worst possible meal for dieters to eat.  There’s no evidence for this claim.  In fact, quite the opposite.  In a new study, obese women were put on 1400 calorie diets for 12 weeks.  The dieters were divided into two groups:

  1. 700 cal breakfast, 500 cal lunch and 200 cal dinner
  2. 200 breakfast, 500 lunch, 700 dinner.

So the largest meals were completely switched.  Result: everyone lost weight, but the big breakfast group lost almost 18 lbs while the big dinner group lost just over 7.  Less than half as much.

Not only was weight loss greater, but the big breakfast group had more improvements in metabolic measures like blood glucose and insulin.  Here’s the kicker: not only did the big breakfast group lose much more weight, but they did it while occasionally eating cookies, cake and other dessert foods at breakfast.

It’s great news for dieters.  Unfortunately, our busy lives don’t leave people with much time to enjoy a decent breakfast.  All our free time is in the evening, when a large meal may end up hindering your weight loss efforts.   One possible strategy: take 1-2 days a week and have a very small dinner, such as a yogurt and a piece of fruit, or scrambled eggs and sliced raw vegetables.  This way you can occasionally take advantage of that other piece of this dieting puzzle: the small dinner.

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