BREAKFAST is the most important meal of the day: True or false? The answer is, in fact, both.
The idea that skipping breakfast contributes to weight gain doesn’t mean that eating breakfast can help with weight loss, a research review suggests.
If you want to lose weight, for one, breakfast may not actually be that important after all. A recent meta-analysis in the BMJ investigating the effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake found that eating a morning meal was not a reliable approach to weight management. The researchers also found that skipping breakfast likely does not lead to weight gain.
Researchers examined data from 13 studies in which some participants ate breakfast and others skipped it. The people who ate breakfast consumed more calories and weighed more than individuals who skipped this morning meal, a research review suggests.
The results may surprise legions of dieters: breakfast eaters consumed an average of 260 calories more a day and weighed an average of 0.44 kilogram (about 1 pound) more than breakfast avoiders.
“There is a belief in the community that breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” said senior study author Flavia Cicuttini of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
“This is not the case,” Cicuttini said by email. “A calorie is a calorie, whatever time you eat it, and people shouldn’t eat if they are not hungry.”
While some previous research suggests that eating breakfast is associated with increased odds of maintaining a healthy weight, many of these studies were not controlled experiments designed to prove whether breakfast directly causes weight loss or prevents weight gain, researchers note in The BMJ.
People who ate breakfast consumed more calories and weighed more than individuals who skipped this morning meal.
Here are some of the key nutrients you can load up on in the morning:
- Fiber: Most Americans are not meeting their daily fiber needs. According to the Institute of Medicine, women need 25 grams of fiber per day and men need 38 grams per day, yet the average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day. Why do we need fiber? Research has shown that fiber may help lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, regulate blood sugar and improve digestion. So when you pass on a breakfast that possibly includes oatmeal, chia, flaxseed, hemp seeds, 100-percent whole grain bread or quinoa, you have decreased your chances of getting sufficient fiber that day.
- Calcium: Oatmeal with milk allows one to start the day with calcium. Without it, one probably wouldn’t come close to meeting their calcium needs. Many plant-based milks are also fortified with calcium and can be good additions to breakfast smoothies and cereals, hot or cold. Or, try yogurt, cottage cheese or kefir, which also provide bone-strengthening calcium.
- Vitamin D: Many foods we eat for breakfast – dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals – are fortified with vitamin D. Others, like egg yolks, have it naturally. Your body needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium and therefore promote bone growth. So if you don’t eat breakfast, you’ve missed yet another opportunity.
Other popular breakfast nutrients include vitamin C, potassium, choline, lutein and protein. I’m not saying that you won’t get these nutrients (especially protein) without breakfast, but your chances of meeting your targets increase when you eat three meals a day instead of two.
Much of this research also left open the possibility that people who eat breakfast have a healthier weight because they’re different from those who skip the morning meal, with perhaps healthier overall eating habits or more consistent exercise routines, the study authors note.
There was no meaningful difference in the association between breakfast consumption and weight or calorie intake based on how much individual participants weighed, the analysis found. Results were similar for people at a healthy weight and for individuals who were overweight.
Dieters are sometimes told skipping breakfast will make them hungrier and increase their propensity to overeat later in the day. But the analysis didn’t find a difference in hunger levels based on whether or not participants ate a morning meal.
One limitation of the analysis is that the smaller studies were all too brief to see whether or how eating breakfast might affect long-term weight control or calorie consumption, the study authors note.
“When people skipped breakfast, they ate more later in the day, but not enough to compensate for the extra calories they had not consumed earlier,” Spector said by email. “The studies so far suggest, but don’t prove, that breakfast skipping can help some people lose weight.”
The types of foods people eat may matter at least as much, if not more, than the total calories they consume or exactly when they have their first meal of the day, added Spector, a self-professed habitual breakfast eater.