The Breakfast Debate: Does Skipping Breakfast Actually Lead to a Reduction in Total Calorie Intake?

by Sarah Gold

Cereal companies tout the importance of breakfast to weight loss. Many dieters are told to eat a big breakfast to reduce hunger the rest of the day. Yet, others think skipping breakfast is the key to success. Are these breakfast skippers on to something?

A recent study published in the Nutrition Journal, found that eating a larger breakfast leads to a higher overall calorie intake. German researches analyzed dietary records from 280 obese subjects and 100 normal weight subjects. The study found that regardless of calories eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner calories remained the same. However, larger breakfasts did lead to less mid-morning snacking.

Does this mean you should stop eating breakfast? Not necessarily. After reading the study more carefully, it was clear that the foods that led to increased calorie intake were high in fat, sugar, and calories overall. For example, cake, cheese, sausage, marmalade, and butter were some of the biggest breakfast calorie contributors on days when total calorie intake was high. Certainly eating 500-600 calories of sausage, cakes, butter, and marmalade could lead to greater total calorie intake. Not only are they high in calories, because they are largely comprised of sugars and refined carbohydrates, but these types of foods will not keep you fuller any longer than if you ate 300-400 calories of a fiber and protein filled meal. Foods high in fiber and protein are digested more slowly than foods like cakes and marmalades, keeping that hunger feeling at bay.

The breakfast debate has been at the center of the weight loss conversation for several years now.  Many observational studies have shown a link between not eating breakfast and increased incidence of obesity. The hypothesis is that skipping breakfast leads to increased hunger later in the day and ravenous, uninhibited eating, and ultimately to a higher risk of overweight or obesity. This new study was one of the first to show that regardless of Body Mass Index (BMI), eating more at breakfast resulted in a greater total daily energy intake.

When trying to lose weight, breakfast may play an important role in satiety. Dr. Susan Roberts, PhD, Director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and author of the “i” diet, encourages her clients to spread their calories throughout the day to keep from getting too hungry. She recommends eating 25% of your daily calorie intake at breakfast. And what does she recommend for those who don’t like to eat breakfast? Try it out! Many dieters find themselves hungry more often and learn to love breakfast.

Choosing whether or not to eat breakfast is not just about weight management; breakfast is important for brain function as well. The brain needs energy to run effectively and eating breakfast contributes to its ability to function properly. Several studies have shown a positive relationship between eating breakfast and improved memory, cognition, and performance in school children.

When it comes to weight loss, the breakfast debate still continues.  If you’re not a “wake up and eat breakfast” person but find yourself starving at 10am and eating anything in sight, it might be worth trying to add breakfast to your day, even if it’s an hour or two after you wake up. Breakfast should be well balanced, just like every other meal of the day. And remember, skipping meals is never a good strategy for weight loss because you’ll likely end up starving and eating more than you would have if you didn’t skip the meal.

Sarah Gold is a first year Nutrition Communication student and is also part of dual program with Simmons to pursue her Dietetic Internship. A born New Yorker, but Cali girl at heart, you can find Sarah on the ski slopes, on a bike, or in the kitchen testing out new recipes.

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