The importance of breakfast might be one of the longest running myths when it comes to dietary health, because when you actually look into the science behind it, there’s not much evidence to support its lofty status as “the most important meal of the day”. In fact, a spate of new research independently conducted by different universities around the world and published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that breakfast has little to no effect on a person’s weight and overall health.
In one of the studies, researchers at the University of Alabama and other institutions in the US gathered almost 300 volunteers who had started dieting before the study. These volunteers were split into three groups and told to either eat breakfast every day, skip breakfast every day, or keep on doing what they were doing. The people who were told to continue what they were doing were already in the habit of consistently eating or skipping breakfast.
Four months later, the volunteers were weighed, and the only gain or loss any of them had experienced since they started the study was half a kilo or so. According to Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times, "weight in all groups [was] unaffected by whether someone ate breakfast or skipped it".
A separate study conducted by researchers at the University of Bath in the UK took on 33 slim volunteers and started out by measuring their metabolic rates, cholesterol levels and blood-sugar profiles. They were then split into two groups, and half were told to eat breakfast, and half to skip it. They were given activity monitors to record how active they were in the morning.
Six weeks later, both groups had their body weights, metabolic rates, cholesterol and blood sugar levels measured again and the researchers found that they were about the same as they were at the beginning of the study.
"The one difference was that the breakfast eaters seemed to move around more during the morning; their activity monitors showed that volunteers in this group burned almost 500 calories more in light-intensity movement,” says Reynolds at the New York Times. "But by eating breakfast, they also consumed an additional 500 calories each day. Contrary to popular belief, skipping breakfast had not driven volunteers to wolf down enormous lunches and dinners - but it had made them somewhat more sluggish first thing in the morning.”
“Breakfast may be just another meal,” said one of the team at the University of Alabama, Emily Dhurandhar, because so far there’s been little evidence to suggest that skipping it can lead to any signicant effect on a person's weight or general health.
Both studies were relatively short-term, and future studies could stand to include more volunteers, but "the slightly unsatisfying takeaway from the new science,” says Reynolds, "would seem to be that if you like breakfast, fine; but if not, don’t sweat it."