Is breakfast all it’s cracked up to be?

Feb 14, 2019 | 0 comments

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the important meal of the day, and surely there are benefits. And as a dietitian specializing in weight management, I’ve worked with my patients and clients to create healthy meal plans, typically including breakfast.

Studies, even recent ones, have shown that eating a meal boosts your metabolism more than eating the same meal in the evening. Many hypothesized that skipping breakfast led to eating more (and more) over the rest of the day.

So imagine my surprise by the findings published recently in the journal BMJ. “Despite long­held beliefs and widespread medical recommendations, breakfast does not appear to have an important role in weight loss after all, with a new meta­-analysis showing no evidence that eating breakfast reduces daily caloric intake and weight gain is no worse among those who skip the meal.”

Researchers at Monash University, in Melbourne Australia, analyzed results from 13 clinical trials from high-income countries (principally the USA and the UK) over the past 28 years. Included in the study were trials that evaluated how breakfast impacted on the rest of the day’s intake, and how eating breakfast or not eating breakfast affected weight loss.

The authors concluded, “This systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining weight change in adults consuming or skipping breakfast found no evidence to support the notion that breakfast consumption promotes weight loss or that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.”

In an accompanying BMJ editorial, Tim Spector, MD, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, London, UK, notes that the “disadvantages of skipping breakfast have now been debunked by several randomized trials. No evidence supports the claim that skipping breakfast makes you gain weight or adversely reduces your resting metabolic rate.”

Importantly, the overall data underscore that metabolism may simply be more of an individualized concept than has previously been realized, and a “one size fits all” approach may be futile, he says.

Previous studies have shown that eating a larger percentage of daily calories earlier in the day is better for weight loss and health. Certainly, in many cultures, it is the habit to have just a light breakfast, the main meal at lunch, and a light dinner.

And we cannot discount the theories that people who eat a healthy breakfast are healthier overall — they tend to eat more fruit and whole grains, and exercise more.

The researchers caution that the results of this meta-analysis should be taken with a grain of salt and emphasize, “Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, such as improved concentration and attentiveness levels in childhood, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect.”

Tim Spector also discusses the ongoing research on the connection between the gut microbiome and timing as well as type of meals. He writes, “The community of 100 trillion gut microbes have a circadian rhythm and vary in composition and function in fasting and fed states.” Although this is a young discipline, some data suggest that microbial communities could benefit from short periods of fasting.” He concludes: “While waiting for guidelines to change, no harm can be done in trying out your own personal experiments in skipping breakfast.”

I reached out to a practicing weight management dietitian for his opinion. Joey Gochnour, BS, BS, MEd, RDN, CSSD, CSOWM, LD, NASM-CPT is a licensed dietitian in the state of Texasregistered dietitian nutritionistboard certified specialist in sports dieteticsboard certified specialist in obesity and weight management, exercise physiologist, and certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Joey said, “I agree with the conclusions of this study. From personal experience, I have patients who have successfully lost weight — more than 70 pounds, maintained — and do not eat breakfast. Some prefer alternative meal patterns like eating small midday snacks and a large dinner.
I work with my clients to find the meal patterns that suit them — so they can consume the optimal amount of calories to fuel their workouts and reach their weight goals. Forcing clients to eat breakfast when it is not something they want to do can encourage patient resistance to change. This new finding may appear controversial, but it is somewhat similar to when we found that more exercise isn’t always the right prescription for weight loss. How much and what type of exercise is enough and how much is too much is unique to each client and must be calculated based on the client’s needs.
And, I do agree with the findings that show that people who eat breakfast, in general, have healthier lifestyles!”

Of course, anyone who needs blood sugar medication to control their diabetes needs to be sure to test frequently and not skip meals. And just because this study doesn’t conclude that eating breakfast is necessarily the best strategy for weight loss, that doesn’t mean you should skip breakfast if it suits your appetite and lifestyle. I wake up, go for a walk for about an hour, and when I get home, I’m ready to roll… up to the breakfast bar!

Ecuadorian breakfast favorites.
Photo credit:

If you do eat breakfast (and I do, daily) the recipe for health is a combination of fast and slowly absorbed calories, namely carbohydrates (unprocessed), protein, and fat (inherent in the food, not added fat) such as:

Carbohydrate (and fiber) from whole grain cereals and seeds like quinoa, fresh fruit and vegetables

Protein from nuts, legumes, dairy, lean meat, egg

Fat that is inherent in the food, not added fat — healthy fats in dairy, nuts, avocado, fish

Need some new ideas? Click here for the FoodNetwork’s link to healthy breakfast recipes. Do you eat breakfast? What’s your favorite? Mine is un-sugared muesli with natural Greek yogurt, and fresh fruit (right now it’s fresh mango and bananas rojo). Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Healthy breakfast salad.

Sources Tim Spector: Breakfast—the most important meal of the day? Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Benefits of breakfast in weight loss don’t add up. January 30, 2019 Eating breakfast burns more carbs during exercise and accelerates metabolism for the next meal.

Susan Burke March

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