There has been some confusion in the media lately when it comes to eating breakfast, suggesting that maybe we don’t really need to eat breakfast.
But rarely does the press report all aspects of a study, leading to confusion of the part of the public about what they should do. “First they tell us one thing, then they tell us another thing.” Not eating fish due to pesticides and avoiding fat are just two examples of messages that confuse the public.
That being said, this particular study looked at the effects of breakfast on a group of people ages 21-60 on several markers of health, including:
- Resting metabolic rate
- The amount of calories burned during physical activity
- Caloric intake
- Blood sugar responses to food
This group of participants were given either a daily breakfast (of at least 700 calories) before 11 AM or refrained from eating before noon for 6 weeks. The idea was to see if the common notion that breakfast “revs up” your metabolism was true or not. Here’s what they found:
- Contrary to popular belief, there was change in the metabolic rate of those who ate breakfast.
- There was actually a small increase in the amount of calories eaten in the breakfast group (539 calories per day).
- There was no difference in body mass, fat mass or any markers of cardiovascular health.
- However, the calories burned with exercise was quite a bit higher in the breakfast group (442 calories per day).
- The breakfast group also had a slightly more stable blood glucose in the afternoon and evening by the final week of the study.
At first glance, it would seem that the breakfast group did not have much of an advantage over the group that skipped breakfast. While you may be surprised, I do have a few comments on this…
First of all, breakfast supplies your brain with the energy needed to function. If you do not feed your brain, it will use the hormone cortisol to break down muscle to provide glucose for the brain. This study was done over the course of 6 weeks. This is not long enough to follow the long-term damage caused by consistent, daily breakdown of muscle to replace the skipped breakfast.
Second, there was no mention at all about what types of foods were eaten for breakfast. Frosted Flakes for breakfast is going to have a much different effect on the body than whole grain bread with real peanut butter spread on top of it. I always steer patients towards a high fiber (6-7 grams or more) or protein-based breakfast (eggs, peanut butter, etc…). Processed junk for breakfast is likely not any better for you than skipping breakfast.
Third, creating a more stable afternoon blood sugar is going to prevent cravings in the afternoon and help you make wiser food choices for dinner.
Lastly, while the breakfast group did take in more calories for the day, this was almost offset by the better calorie-burning response to exercise. I would again point out that this was only a 6 week study and this is not enough time for patterns to fully change. It would be reasonable to surmise that eating breakfast would preserve more muscle mass which would, in turn, lead to more calorie burning during exercise. Given that it could take months to balance out the muscle-preserving effects of breakfast versus the muscle-destroying effects of skipping breakfast, it is likely that the effect on calories consumed and burning would favor the breakfast group over the course of months and years. But this cannot be shown from this study and is merely my educated opinion on the process.
Overall, I would never consider skipping breakfast for myself on a regular basis. In addition, ANY good parent would never let his or her child leave for school without eating a good quality breakfast. Shouldn’t that say it all?