By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
While Americans tend to chow down on a full breakfast of eggs and bacon with home fries or pancakes, the Europeans do it a little differently. And by making different breakfast choices, including enjoying the continental breakfast, they may actually live longer.
You’ve probably come across the term "continental breakfast" in the “extras” for your hotel stay – but what exactly does it consist of?
And is it true that a continental breakfast is a healthier breakfast, helping you actually live longer and enjoy greater wellbeing?
What Exactly is a Continental Breakfast?
The continental breakfast generally refers to a breakfast with bread rolls or sliced bread, butter and jam, cheese, perhaps some sliced meats, croissants, and pastries, washed down with fruit juice, coffee, or tea. It does not usually include cooked eggs or meats like bacon, and there are no fried potatoes or pancakes with syrup.
Continental Breakfasts: Do They Help You Live Longer?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared its death rates in 2012 for US residents and those people living in developed European countries. They found that on average, men and women in the US lived 2.2 fewer years than residents in similar countries.
Why is this? Could it be down to breakfast choices?
It’s hard to say whether a breakfast makes a big difference in terms of longevity. Research has been done into how the Mediterranean diet helps people live longer.
For example, a 2009 study from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts shows how certain foods within this diet affect longevity, and these include not eating much meat, eating more fruits and vegetables, and consuming olive oil.
If a continental breakfast contains fruit and no meat, and also features whole grain bread, this could tip the balance in favor of a longer life. But only if the rest of the diet is similarly healthy in the Mediterranean vein.
Eating a Continental Breakfast and its Protein Benefits
Since the continental breakfast is limited in protein, this is much better for your kidneys.
And a diet low in red meat consumption is linked to better kidney function, according to a 2016 study by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the US.
Skipping the bacon and sausages at breakfast when enjoying a continental breakfast can help boost kidney function in the long term, according to the experts. But the kidney dangers were not linked to other forms of protein.
And other studies show that protein at breakfast time actually helps to reduce food cravings and overeating.
A 2014 study from the University of Missouri in Columbia shows that when teen girls eat breakfast it helps them stop craving sweet foods later in the day, and it also helps prevent overeating.
But scientists also discovered that “breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory - or high-fat – foods.” The study looked at 20 overweight girls between the ages of 18 and 20 and questioned them on their breakfast eating habits.
Eating an with Egg Breakfast Helps
And a 2012 study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana revealed that people who ate eggs for breakfast are more likely to report feeling full throughout the day than those people who eat a wheat protein breakfast. The researchers looked at 20 overweight people and asked them questions about their breakfasts. They were then assigned to two different types of breakfast for a week. Researchers say that “this study shows that diets with higher protein quality may enhance satiety, leading to better compliance and success of a weight loss diet.”
So it seems that eating high quality protein – especially eggs - for breakfast can help fill you up and cause you to eat less during the day, which is where an American breakfast may have the edge.
Eating a Continental Breakfast Helps You Avoid Cardiovascular Disease
However, if you regularly fill up at breakfast time on sausages and bacon, you could be heading for heart problems. The continental breakfast largely removes this added risk. A 2013 study from the University of Zurich links processed meat consumption with cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Researchers carried out the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC) involving 10 countries analyzing nearly half a million people. They reported that the risk of premature death rose with increased processed meat consumption.
The lead author said, “Overall, we estimate that 3% of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g processed meat per day.” Adding processed meats to your breakfast, American style, does not seem to help your heart.
Continental Breakfast Boosts Learning?
And it seems that eating a breakfast with foods that deliver a low level of energy throughout the day could actually boost educational attainment.
But the results from a 2015 study from Cardiff University's Center for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPher), in the UK imply that the continental breakfast should be high on whole grain bread and low on sugary pastries in order to fulfill this potential.
The study said that a good breakfast was linked to educational attainment, and looked at 5,000 children aged between 9 and 11 years. The level of academic achievement was significantly linked with the number of healthy breakfast items eaten. Pupils were almost twice as likely to gain above-average academic scores when they ate these items for breakfast.
But A Bigger Breakfast Benefits Your Health, According to Experts
Since a continental breakfast tends to be lighter, you would assume it would assist with weight loss.
But a 2013 study from Tel Aviv University actually states that eating a big breakfast of 700 calories helps promote weight loss more than eating this amount of calories for dinner and having a smaller breakfast meal.
The research looked at 93 obese women and put them into different groups, one group eating their main amount of calories at breakfast and the other at dinner. On average, the women in the big breakfast group lost 17.8 pounds and 3 inches from the waist, while those in the big dinner group lost 7.3 pounds and 1.4 inches from the waist.
One thing’s for certain – eating breakfast of any sort is vital for a healthy diet and for preventing weight gain.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn that many teenagers skip breakfast and this increases the risk they will overeat and put on weight. Adults who skip breakfast are also at risk of weight gain and energy slumps throughout the day.
Your breakfast, whether it is American or continental, should contain healthy carbohydrates, fresh fruit, a little protein, and limited amounts of fat, salt and sugar to provide the best benefits.