Should your morning routine include a big breakfast?

Ah, breakfast.

The most important meal of the day?

The most unnecessary meal of the day?

Just another meal?

Two recently published research articles suggest that perhaps breakfast should be (back) in our good books.

In the first one, researchers looked at 16 young (average age 24), normal weight men to determine whether breakfast and dinner had different effects on metabolism. After we eat a meal, our energy expenditure goes up temporarily. Think of it as your body responding to the meal by trying to burn off what you just ate. The researchers wondered whether we might be better at doing this earlier in the day.

So, they invited the 16 guys into a metabolic testing unit — a place where they had complete control over food intake and could also perform outcome measurements — for three days. On the first day, the research participants got to acclimatize to the testing unit. The next day, half of them were given a low calorie breakfast (11% of their estimated daily total energy expenditure, or TEE), an ‘standard’ lunch (20% of their TEE) and a high calorie dinner (69% of their TEE). The other half were given a high calorie breakfast (69% of their TEE), the standard lunch, and a low calorie dinner (11% of their TEE). On the third day, the meals given to each group were flipped (i.e. those who had the high calorie breakfast the first day got the low calorie breakfast the second day). The reason for varying up the calories was to determine whether the effects of time of day on energy expenditure changed in settings of calorie restriction. This is particularly important to know for people who are on a diet that involves eating fewer calories (which pretty much all diets out there do).

So, what did they find? Diet induced thermogenesis, aka the amount of energy burned after the meal, was more than twice as high after breakfast than after dinner, regardless of calorie content.

They also found that hunger and sweets cravings were higher after breakfast than dinner, and particularly high after the low calorie breakfast (no surprises there, really).

Based on these findings, they concluded that bigger breakfasts may be better, not only because we might burn more energy after breakfast than dinner, but also, we might be less likely to engage in compensatory snacking (on sweets in particular) throughout the day. Breakfasts also tended to raise blood glucose to a lower degree than dinners.

Of course, this is a very short study in 16 young healthy men, so it’s impossible to say whether this applies to the population at large, but it certainly fits with the old adage ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper‘.

I’m not sure that I’d be able to adhere to the big breakfast regimen…I so enjoy a big dinner, followed by a healthy serving of dark chocolate. But this study is some interesting food for thought (sorry, that pun is getting old).

The second paper was a review article, in which the authors evaluated several weight loss registries, looking to determine which behaviours were most often reported by people who successfully lost weight and kept it off.  The most frequently reported behaviour strategies were:

  • Having healthy foods available at home
  • Consuming breakfast regularly
  • Higher vegetable consumption
  • Lowe intake of sugary and fatty foods

Also, high levels of physical activity were consistently tied with weight loss maintenance. The crucial role of exercise in keeping weight off has been reported in a number of other studies.

Of interest, in studies of time restricted feeding (eating only during a certain window of the day, usually a window that is less than 12 hours in length), the time of the eating window doesn’t seem to matter. Outcomes appear to be similar whether the morning meal is skipped (and meals are consumed later in the day) or whether the evening meal is skipped (and meals are consumed earlier in the day).

My three take-aways:

  • Eating breakfast probably isn’t going to make you fat…and if you love a big breakfast, don’t feel bad about it; you may well burn off more of your calories than you would have if you ate the same thing at dinner
  • If you routinely skip breakfast, that’s probably okay too
  • In short, when it comes to breakfast: you do you!

Wishing you a safe and healthy weekend!

 

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