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More evidence that breakfast may not be as important as previously thought



a breakfast meal of fried eggs and toast garnished with slices of orange

Late last year I reported on a small study that suggested that when eating breakfast - regardless of the content of the breakfast - study subjects consumed about the same number of calories each day and made about the same food choices at the next meal in the day (lunch). I noted at the time that this was contrary to what we'd previously believed about breakfast consumption and that the majority of evidence was still pro-breakfast-consumption.

Today's research also contradicts previous research, but with significantly more weight - pun fully intended (BMJ 2019;364:142 doi:10.1136/bmj.142).

Researchers in Australia scoured the literature for randomized controlled trials that looked at the effect of eating breakfast on either overall body weight, the number of calories consumed that day, or both. They identified 13 trials that met their minimum quality criteria; 7 looked at the effects of eating breakfast on change in body weight, and 10 looked at the effects of eating breakfast on the number of calories consumed overall.

Overall, these 13 studies tended to be small, with the number of participants ranging from just 10 people (all men) to 204 people (83% women). In total the number of participants included in the authors' meta-analysis (pooling of the results of all of the research) included 520 people.

The average follow-up time for these studies was just two weeks, and the authors note that those participants who were assigned to eat breakfast tended to consume about 250 calories more each day than those participants who were assigned to skip breakfast. That said, the authors note that these results were not consistent across the 10 trials that assessed total number of calories consumed, and caution that this is a finding to be interpreted with caution.

Similarly, although in the studied trials those who skipped breakfast tended to have greater reduction in their body weight than those who did not skip breakfast, again the authors suggest interpreting these results with a grain of salt: again the findings were not consistent across the 7 trials.

Further, none of the studies could blind the participants to which group (eating breakfast vs. not eating breakfast) they belonged to, which could have had an effect on the outcomes.

What this means for you

The authors conclude that there is little good evidence to suggest that eating breakfast will help in weight loss. This isn't, in fact, news: way back in 2012 I concluded that while there may be no causal relationship between breakfast eating and weight loss alone, there was good reason to believe that eating a breakfast with good-quality protein and higher fiber was not just a marker of an overall more healthy diet, but also would help you feel fuller throughout the morning, likely leading you to eat less at lunch and snack less overall. If breakfast just isn't your thing and you're eating appropriate portions and quality calories through the reest of the day, that's fine, but for many people starting the day with a small but good-quality breakfast does help to start the day on the right foot. Here are some recommendations for a good breakfast.

First posted: February 6, 2018