When you think of breakfast, what foods come to mind?
Even if you don’t eat bacon and eggs, chances are they are the first foods that pop into your mind. Do you know why? The easy answers are that you like the taste and that’s what your family ate for breakfast when you were growing up. But do you know how bacon and eggs became associated with breakfast? You are probably not thinking of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays.
Cured pork/bacon had been a staple of the European diet for centuries but it was not considered a breakfast food. Until the 1920s most Americans had a relatively light breakfast, usually coffee, a roll and orange juice. In 1925 the Beech-Nut Packing Company hired Edward Bernays to increase bacon sales.
Instead of simply telling people to eat more bacon he commissioned a “scientific study” in which 5,000 physicians were asked if a “hearty breakfast was better than a light breakfast to replace the energy lost by the body at night. As expected, most doctors said a “hearty” breakfast was better. These “results” were reported back to doctors throughout the country, and in the print and broadcast media, along with advertising for Beech-Nut’s bacon. Bacon and eggs were presented as the “hearty” breakfast to boost energy and vitality.
This was an extremely successful marketing campaign that used “scientific” information, a trusted authority figure, word of mouth and our subconscious desires for more energy and vitality which would now forever be associated with bacon. Beech-Nut’s profits soared and the “all-American breakfast of bacon and eggs” was born.
Today, 70 percent of bacon eaten in the US is eaten at breakfast. The vast majority of people who feel they must have bacon and eggs for breakfast have no idea that they are actually victims of propaganda. Bernays actually wrote a book called Propaganda. Bernays describes the Beech Nut Campaign
Edward Bernays also worked for The American Tobacco Company. His marketing campaign in the 1920s and 1930s got women to associate smoking with freedom and liberation. He removed the stigma associated with women smoking in public and sold the idea that cigarettes were “torches of freedom.”
Cigarette sales among women soared and we see the deadly consequences today; lung cancer kills more women than any other type of cancer. More women get breast cancer, but lung cancer is more deadly because there are no effective early screening methods and current treatments for lung cancer are not as effective as treatments for breast cancer. Smoking is declining now because we are aware of the dangers, but many people who would never smoke continue to eat bacon with the unconscious belief that it is somehow necessary for energy and vitality. The consequences are equally deadly.
In 2012 a Swedish study found that eating 2 slices of bacon a day increased pancreatic cancer risk by 20%. Eating a daily 3.5 oz serving of any processed meat (bacon, ham, or sausage) increased the risk of developing pancreatic cancer risk by 38%, and eating 5.3 oz increased the risk by 57 percent. Pancreatic cancer, like lung cancer, is deadly because there are few warning signs and the disease is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment is not effective; 80 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within a year after the diagnosis.
So, what should you eat for breakfast? The best food choice in the morning is fresh ripe seasonal fruit on an empty stomach. The second best choice is whole grain cereal. Whenever I say this I always get questions about carbohydrates, sugar and diabetes.
Fear of carbs is another unconscious cultural belief, but type 2 diabetes is not caused by eating carbs. It is caused by over production of glucose in the liver. The most popular drug for diabetes, Metformin works by blocking liver cells from making glucose. Insulin is supposed to shut off glucose production while glucagon turns it back on. Animal protein and fat (from foods like bacon) stimulate glucagon and contribute to insulin resistance.
Last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA-Internal Medicine) a large meta-analysis of three studies involving over 150,000 health care professionals found that those who increased their intake of red and processed meat by just 3.5 servings per week (1 slice of bacon a day) over a 4-year period had a 48 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who had not increased their red and processed meat intake.
Edward Bernays was not a “bad” person; he did not know the scientific evidence linking bacon and cigarettes to poor health outcomes. We have that information now but even those who know the science are confused by outdated concepts such as the glycemic index.
It’s tragic when people tell me that they eat bacon for breakfast because it does not have carbs but they cannot eat fruits. The carbs in fruits are attached to colon-cleansing fiber, cancer-fighting phytonutrients, and blood pressure lowering potassium, in addition to the vitamins and minerals that we need for optimum health.
Choice is only possible when we are aware of our options. You have a choice now, you can continue to be the victim of propaganda or you can choose food for breakfast that will truly give you energy and vitality.
Dr. Jennifer Rooke is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine. She recently joined the faculty at Morehouse to start a lifestyle medicine clinic. Lifestyle Medicine is the use of interventions such as evidenced-based nutrition, physical activity and stress management to treat disease. Dr. Rooke has practiced medicine for over 27 years and is board certified in both Occupational Medicine and Public Health/Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke is a fellow of both the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Rooke serves as adjunct faculty in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University. Contact the author or visit her website www.advancedlifestylemedicine.com