Breakfast, Weight Loss & Health
By WLR Contributor Dr Muhamad Usman MD
Does Eating Breakfast Affect Your Weight? The answer is 'Yes' and 'No' too. Nutritionists have long touted breakfast as 'the most important meal of the day', and not without good reason.
Researchers have always believed that eating breakfast is directly linked to your body weight. But a thorough look through the latest data has shown that the importance of breakfast may have been 'over-hyped'.
How Breakfast Affects Your Weight
There are several observational studies on this matter. Researchers believe breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than the skippers (1-4).
One of these studies at the University of Tsukuba, Japan made an interesting discovery.
Researchers analyzed the data from as much as 20,000 overweight individuals. The one consistent finding was that most of them skipped breakfast.
In another study, researchers found that the incidence of obesity is twice as high (30%) in breakfast skippers as compared to eaters (15%) (5).
Here is how researchers believe breakfast has this effect.
1. Breakfast suppresses your appetite
This makes sense too. If you eat something to start your day, you will definitely be less hungry at lunchtime.
Research published in the International Journal of Obesity evaluated the effect of breakfast on satiety and levels of hunger hormones. All 13 research participants felt fuller after eating breakfast.
This effect, according to the researchers, was due to an increase in PYY levels (6). PYY, or peptide YY, is a potent hunger suppressing hormone released by the pancreas.
Other than PYY, ghrelin is another appetite suppressing hormone. Breakfast causes an increase in the levels of this hormone too (7).
2. Breakfast decreases energy consumption at lunchtime
Research conducted at the University of Nottingham backs this fact. Researchers compared the effect of eating or skipping breakfast on parameters like energy consumption at lunchtime.
Eaters consumed 17% fewer calories at lunchtime compared to the skippers (8).
3. It sets your hormones straight
Insulin is a hormone that leads to weight gain. Once your body becomes resistant to insulin, it starts turning glucose into fat. This is 'insulin resistance' and one of the biggest culprits behind weight gain.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham found that eating breakfast improves insulin sensitivity. They further suggested that omitting breakfast can have 'deleterious effects' on your health. These include weight gain and higher chances of diabetes (9).
4. It promotes healthful activities
Eating breakfast gives you a psychological upper hand too. Eating breakfast means that you are concerned about your well-being. It also means that you are willing to make healthful choices for yourself.
British research supports this. Out of 1814 participants, the breakfast eaters were twice more likely to eat fruits and veggies. Moreover, they were four times more likely to exercise compared to non-eaters.
5. It reduces Impulsive Snacking
If you had breakfast, you're less likely to make a stop for a bar of candy or some other snack. In a study, women who ate breakfast reported a significant reduction in impulsive snacking. It led to a slight decrease in body weight too (10).
Other Side of the Picture!
Eating breakfast is a healthy activity. There is no doubt about that. But, should you expect reduction in weight just by eating a nutritious breakfast? Well, researchers have started to raise questions on this notion. There is a good amount of new data that tells a completely different story. Researchers have started to believe that breakfast has 'nothing to do' with body weight!
Krista Casazza, a Ph.D. and a registered dietitian, comments on the value of breakfast. According to her, the effect of breakfast on weight is the 'biggest presumption' about obesity (11). There is a general consensus among authorities on the value of breakfast. But, there is an utter lack of conclusive evidence that could link breakfast to weight loss.
An extensive literature review carried on this subject produced similar results (12). The review, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, took into account 19 studies. Those studies tried to find a link between eating breakfast and odds of losing weight. Following were the concluding remarks of the reviewers:
"The belief in the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity exceeds the strength of scientific evidence"
Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) are our best shot to see if something works in real life. The result of one such RCT found 'no link' between breakfast and the success of a weight loss plan. In this RCT, researchers closely followed 283 overweight participants for 16 weeks. The participants were randomly divided into breakfast or no-breakfast groups. After 16 weeks, researchers compared the changes in weight for both groups. The weight of non-eaters didn't differ much from eaters even after 16 weeks (13).
What Does this Mean for You?
What does all this information mean for you? Should you eat breakfast or give it up altogether? Before you can fill up your plate with anything you can get your hands on or before giving up this meal; here are some facts to consider.
- Breakfast might not have a strong link with body weight, as we previously thought. But, this doesn't mean it has no link at all. It has a definite role in controlling your appetite and calories consumption.
- Breakfast alone is less likely to cause a significant decrease in your body weight. You need to adopt a healthy lifestyle to lose weight.
- Couple a healthy breakfast with mindful eating throughout the day and adequate exercise. If you do that, you will definitely see some results.
- What you eat in your breakfast is another factor to consider. A breakfast high in proteins, low in carbs and fats is what you should have. In fact, studies prove that eating a protein rich breakfast is the best way to kick start your day (14).
What is the Anatomy of an Ideal Breakfast?
Here is what most nutritionists suggest you should have in your breakfast.
- Proteins. As mentioned before, proteins should be on the top of your breakfast menu.
- Complex carbs. You need to put the table sugar aside. Not only in breakfast, but in all other meals too. Make sure the carbohydrates you get are complex rather than simple.
- Fats. Add more unsaturated fats into your diet than saturated ones.
- Hydration. Of course, you can't miss this part! Stay hydrated!
What are good breakfast choices?
Here are some good breakfast choices with ample amount of above mentioned ingredients.
- Eggs are the best source of breakfast proteins (15).
- Greek yogurt.
- Peanut butter.
- Grilled chicken sausage.
- Skimmed milk.
- Always add seasonal fruits to your breakfast.
- Use vegetable oil for cooking.
- Eating a handful of nuts like almonds is always a great idea!
- There is nothing better than water when it comes to hydration. But, other healthy choices are vegetable and fruit juices, smoothies and black coffee (with no added sugar).
You can use the databases and tools in WLR to find the best diet for you. Keep online food and exercise diaries, set a weight loss goal and see how many calories you need to get there. Try it free for 24 hours.