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Should I skip breakfast or not?

International nutritional associations continue to stress the importance of a balanced breakfast. However, for many people, the “most important meal of the day“ has not been so important for some time. An estimated third of people in industrialised nations even misses out on breakfast altogether. Particularly in the light of the continually growing obesity epidemic, there are discussions around whether regular breakfast promotes weight gain or works against it.

Proponents of breakfast stress the effect a morning meal has on stimulating metabolism, as it helps the easily consume the calories absorbed in the morning. It also reduces the feeling of hunger and so prevents excessive calorie intake through the day. A lower energy intake and improved conversion consequently contributes to less energy being stored as fat deposits. Thus, in their view, breakfast is an important element of long-term weight control and reduction.

Breakfast also has other positive effects. It has already been shown in school children that it can improve concentration and mental performance.

Although, a recently published systematic overview study supports critics and re-kindles the discussion. Australian researchers summarised the results of 13 studies that investigated the influence of a regular breakfast on body weight and daily energy intake. In contrast to the arguments of supporters and current nutritional recommendations, a disadvantageous effect of breakfast was shown. According to these results, people who eat breakfast consume around 250 kcal more daily than people who do not eat breakfast and gained an average of about 500g over the course of the study. Based on their results, the researchers doubt the previously described effects of breakfast and postulate that it could even promote a gain in weight.

Do these new findings now undermine general opinion and the recommendations of many years and even help the breakfast critics in finally settling the argument in their favour?

The researchers themselves answered this. They admit that all studies serving as the basis of their investigation were of low quality and further research is necessary. Only two studies covered a period of more than 12 weeks. The other studies with shorter observation periods hardly delivered reliable results regarding an actual change of weight. The fact that the studies largely dispensed with control and variation of nutritional composition of the breakfast, is also worthy of criticism. In many cases, the breakfast consisted of juice, cereals, white bread and sweet pastries. It is hardly surprising that a breakfast consisting largely of short-chain carbohydrates and sugar promotes a gain in weight. They are easily digested and are very quickly available in the blood. As a result, they lead to a sudden increase in blood sugar levels, which is short-lived. Parallel to this increase, the pancreas begins to secrete insulin, which quickly lowers the blood sugar level again and thus brings about hunger and a further intake of food.

The effect of breakfast depends to a large extent on its composition. An overview article published last year reached the conclusion that in contrast to missing breakfast, a protein-rich breakfast containing about 350 kcal has a positive and lasting effect on appetite and feeling of fullness.

Since eating habits vary greatly, it is difficult to draw blanket conclusions. Those who take in large quantities of energy at the beginning of the day through calorie-rich breakfast cereals, sweet pastries and juices, have just as much risk of gaining weight as people who skip breakfast but then consume more calories throughout the day.

As long as science doesn’t provide general answers for or against breakfast, it is left to the individual whether they wish to eat breakfast and how much. However, the principle still applies that fat deposits are only built up when more calories are consumed over a longer period of time than they are consumed.

Image 1 © “asife” / Adobe Stock

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