There is one nutrition debate that just won’t go away: Should you eat or skip breakfast if you’re trying to lose weight? The notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day — especially for dieters — has been around for a long time now. But it’s increasingly being questioned.
“Some patients do fine eating two meals a day, while others feel hungrier and overeat later if they skip breakfast,” explains Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama (UAB) department of nutrition sciences in Birmingham. “We are all different. You have to figure out what works for you.”
Much of the Research on the Importance of Breakfast May Be Biased
For a long time, the consensus has been that people who eat breakfast tend to be thinner, and that breakfast eating helps people consume fewer calories later in the day, thus leading to weight loss. But the proof simply isn’t there, according to UAB research published in December 2015 in Critical Reviews in Food Science Nutrition. Turns out, most of the studies that linked breakfast with weight loss relied on each study subject’s own report of what he or she ate, a method known to provide weak evidence, says Dr. Kitchin.
What’s more, as Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University in New York City, points out in her blog Food Politics, many pro-breakfast studies were funded by Cereal Partners Worldwide, which is connected to Nestlé and General Mills, companies that “have an interest in promoting breakfast cereals,” she writes. (Dr. Nestle is not related to the Nestlé company.)
The only way to really know if breakfast plays a crucial role in weight loss is to look at the results of randomized controlled clinical trials, the gold standard in research, Kitchin explains. And, as it turns out, a systematic review and analysis of 13 such studies published January 30, 2019, in the journal BMJ found that the opposite is true: Breakfast eaters consumed more calories during the day, while breakfast skippers lost about a pound more than folks assigned to eat the morning meal.
“The study suggests that the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss,” the authors concluded, adding that the case isn’t open-and-shut, because the quality of the studies was low. In addition, several studies have suggested that eating a high-protein breakfast may help folks trim down.
For example, one oft-cited study coauthored by scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia department of physiology and nutrition found that premenopausal women who started their day by consuming between 30 and 39 grams of protein ate fewer calories at lunch. It’s important to note that this research was funded by Hillshire Brands, makers of sausages, hot dogs, and other protein-packed foods.