Breakfast: Is It Still the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Pair of recent studies throw doubt on need to eat breakfast

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We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But is it? A pair of recent studies has some questioning this long-held advice.

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Breakfast has been associated with lower body weight in observational studies, a type of study in which researchers simply observe individuals or measure outcomes. However, researchers have yet to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between eating breakfast and shedding pounds.

The two studies that came out in recent months seemed to say eating breakfast did not play a role in weight loss. They surprised many because for so long we all thought that we had to eat breakfast to be healthy and to lose weight.

Despite the two recent studies, I will still tell my patients to eat breakfast daily.

The findings

Let’s look at the studies. In one, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined eating habits among nearly 300 participants who researchers split randomly into three groups. One group ate breakfast, one group did not eat breakfast, and members of the third group maintained their current eating habits.

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Then the researchers weighed participants after a 16-week period. The researchers found no significant difference in weight loss among the groups.

In the second study, conducted at the University of Bath, researchers randomly assigned 33 lean subjects to either eat or skip breakfast. Six weeks later, the participants’ cholesterol levels, resting metabolic rates and overall blood-sugar levels were unchanged. Nor did they overeat during the day.

The researchers did find, however, that people who skipped breakfast were more likely to be lethargic and less active in the morning. The breakfast-skippers also ate less over the course of the day than did breakfast-eaters, though they also burned fewer calories.

More research needed

So what to make of this research? My reading is that these studies taken together show that you will not gain weight if you skip breakfast. Recall that the conventional wisdom is that if you want to lose weight, you should eat breakfast – it does not concern skipping breakfast. For those who are trying to lose weight, breakfast plays an important role in controlling hunger and maintaining energy throughout the day.

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My other observation is that the second study shows that while biomarkers such as cholesterol levels may be unchanged, the breakfast-skippers also burned fewer calories. People trying to lose weight need to rev up their metabolism. So burning fewer calories because you’re skipping breakfast could be a drawback.

The takeaway for me is that if you are happy with your weight, you can choose whether to eat breakfast or skip it. For those who want to lose weight, I recommend a high-protein breakfast such as an egg-white omelet, or non-fat Greek yogurt. This kind of a meal can provide energy to power through your morning and help ward off cravings and binge-eating later in the day.

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Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD

Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and Outpatient Nutrition Manager in the Center for Human Nutrition.