Breakfast is a meal, not a time frame: Researchers consider the pros and cons of eating your first meal early in the day
07/09/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

Breakfast is considered "the most important meal of the day," but a thought-provoking review suggests that it might not always be the case. In fact, the article didn't find strong evidence which supports the notions that skipping breakfast causes weight gain or that eating breakfast promotes weight loss.

The review was conducted by researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and published in the journal The BMJ. The researchers shared that the review challenges the recommendation for breakfast consumption to aid in weight loss.

The researchers found that individuals who ate breakfast consumed more calories during the day. Breakfast eaters also weighed slightly more than those who preferred to skip what most consider to be the "most important meal of the day."

It is worth noting that this review doesn't settle the matter of breakfast and its links to weight loss or gain. The researchers acknowledged that most of the studies included in the review had notable limitations.

To illustrate, some of the studies included in the review were only conducted for short periods of time. In several cases, the researchers knew which volunteers consumed breakfast and which ones didn't eat, which could significantly influence study interpretations.

The results of the review imply that experts should exercise caution when advising those who want to lose weight to eat breakfast since it may "have the opposite effect." The researchers suggested doing long-term, high-quality studies in the future to help health experts learn more about the role of breakfast in weight control.


To eat (or not to eat)

Earlier research has implied that individuals who regularly consume breakfast have a higher chance of maintaining a healthy weight compared to others who skip the first meal of the day.

However, these studies observed large populations over time. Experts posit that there's a possibility that the breakfast eaters in these studies could also have other healthy lifestyle habits, such as following a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. These habits may be responsible for the link between breakfast consumption and successful weight management.

For the current review, the scientists assessed data from 13 previous studies that observed volunteers who were randomly assigned to either eat or skip breakfast. Out of the 13 studies reviewed, seven analyzed the effect of eating breakfast on weight change, while 10 looked into its effect on energy intake.

The shortest study only lasted for 24 hours, and the longest study lasted 16 weeks. In general, the review revealed that, on average, those who had breakfast consumed around 260 calories more per day compared to those who skipped the meal.

Individuals who consumed breakfast weighted at least one pound (0.44 kilograms) more at the end of the study period (seven weeks, on average), unlike others who didn't eat breakfast.

In the past, experts believed that those who didn't eat breakfast would feel hungrier later in the day, meaning they would eat more. However, based on an analysis of hunger hormones, the new review did not find evidence that people who skipped breakfast felt hungrier in the afternoon. (Related: Breakfast as the most important meal is just a slogan? Experts agree fasting longer and eating less may be a better choice.)

Dana Hunnes, a senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center who wasn't involved in the review, advised that the results of the review "don't appear strong enough to warrant recommending for or against skipping breakfast" since the review found only a one-pound difference between those who ate and skipped breakfast. The studies included in the review were also conducted for relatively short periods.

She added that if you prefer to eat breakfast, changing your habits won't do much to affect your current weight, and vice versa.

Hunnes advised that future studies on this topic should be conducted over a longer time, such as six months to at least one year. Instead of instructing participants to report what they eat after doing so, future research could utilize use apps that let people quickly enter all the foods they consume throughout the day.

If you truly want to lose weight, the answer isn't merely eating or skipping breakfast. Even if you're not overweight, follow a healthy diet, minimize your intake of junk food, and exercise regularly for better weight management.

Sources include:

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