There are culinary discussions that should be taboo in polite company because they are sure to invite discord. Which recipe turns out the "perfect" chocolate mousse, for example, or the "correct" manner of removing an olive pit from the mouth.
But perhaps the most controversial of them all is breakfast - to eat or not to eat.
For decades, popular wisdom has favored a "hearty breakfast." But recently two local doctors have challenged that belief.
Dr. William F. Kremer, a specialist in internal medicine in Thurston, Md., has written a book with his wife, Dr. Laura Kremer, called "The Doctors' Metabolic Diet." Discussing the breakfast dilemma, Kremer says the possible effects of a morning meal depend on two things - age and weight. In his view, if you're not growing vertically anymore, and your body doesn't need the extra calories, it's all right to skip breakfast.
A child needs a nutritious breakfast because his rampant metabolism burns up a lot of food. If kids don't eat breakfast, they get grumpy and sleepy. Then their grades slip, which means they have to stay after school. And that makes them even meaner.
But Kremer argues that chubby people shouldn't eat breakfast (especially one full of carbohydrates) because it causes their blood sugar to shoot up. An hour later they will be hungry again as their blood sugar plummets. Obese people have enough food stored in their bodies to carry them through the morning hours anyway, Kremer says, and don't need to replenish their energy supply.
Kremer calls the rise and fall of blood sugar "an overshoot of insulin response." He says eating foods high in carbohydrates stimulates the appetite - soon after the morning doughnut, the body cries for another fix.
A good way to control this response is to eat foods high in fiber. The fiber slows down the absorption process of the food into the intestine so the blood sugar takes longer to drop.
Kremer says to forget the doughnut altogether. Morning exercise is what he recommends because it "gets the blood flowing and releases energy from storage."
Adults of normal weight, Kremer says, "are best guided by their own desires. If they are not overweight and eat breakfast every day it is best to leave well enough alone. Everyone finds their own balance. What's wrong with obese people is that they are out of balance and they need to get straight again."
Three decades ago, the hearty-breakfast theory got a big boost from one W.W. Tuttle, a physiologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, who received a grant in 1940 to conduct what is now known as the Iowa Breakfast Study. Tuttle and his research crew from the university tested 50 volunteers, from 12 to 83 years old, over a six-year period. Part of the study included giving half the subjects three normal meals: one at breakast time. The other half was given the same quantity of food, but at only at midday and in the evening.
Those inthe group that didn't eat in the morning were hungry, got the shakes (during the late morning hours) and had less endurance pedaling on a stationary bicycle. Nor did they lose weight. The food they missed at breakfast they made up for at lunch and dinner.
Another part of the study concentrated on which came first - the cereal or the egg. The eggs-and-bacon crowd apparently was just as perky in mid-morning as the milk-and-cereal group. But the heavy breakfasters (more than 800 calories) were sluggish and not too quick on te bike.
The best breakfast, the researchers concluded, was one consisting of enough food to make up one-fourth of the total daily requirements of calories and protein. Juice, cereal and milk, two slices of bread with butter and a cup of coffee with sugar were given as examples of an adequate breakfast for a white-collar type. It was eggs-and-bacon for those whose work was more physical.
Ever since, apostles of the you'd-better-eat-your-breakfast school have been throwing this study in the faces of those who don't believe in breaking their fast until midday. But what they probably didn't know was the identity of the people who picked up a "generous" portion of the tab for the study - General Mills and the Cereal Institute (a promoter of breakfast cereals).
That the study was funded by people in the business of making breakfasts might seem bad enough. But Theodore Bergland, who reported these findings for the Chicago Tribune, notes, "The Iowa Study did not test for nutrition. It tested style of eating. The researchers should simply have supplied no nutrients, some nutrients and more nutrients for breakfast if they really wanted to test physical reactions." CAPTION: Illustration, "The egg timer is pinging. The toaster is popping. The coffee is perking. Is this it, Alice? Is this the great American dream?, Illustration by H. Martin - Copyright (c) 1973, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.; Picture, no caption