Popular ideas about how to eat healthy seem to be as ever changing as fashion. Nonetheless some ideas seem to last. One old idea that is being questioned is whether or not breakfast helps with weight loss.
A new study showed that eating breakfast might not help weight loss after all. In the study, 283 participants were divided into three groups. Over the 16 weeks in which they were tracked, the group that skipped breakfast had no less weight loss than the other groups. Since this story was contrary to conventional wisdom it has been widely circulated and shared. Some current popular diets that skip breakfast include intermittent fasting, the 8 hour diet, and the ‘fat adapted’ diets.
Is skipping breakfast helpful for weight loss? Is it healthy overall? Can we trust science? The last one is easiest: yes we can trust science. The funny thing about science is that it is a process that does not allow scientists to be trusted. In the book, Wrong, David Freedman shows that the vast majority of studies are simply not accurate. This does not mean that studies are not important or helpful but it does mean they should not be trusted blindly. Lets look at this study about breakfast specifically. Was there food intake monitored? Did they all eat the same amount of food throughout the day? Did they have any special health issues?
In the study, the only nutrition guidance came in the form of a pamphlet. All were given a pamphlet with general advice on healthy eating. The pamphlet for group one did not mention breakfast either way. Group two’s pamphlet encouraged eating a healthy breakfast by 10 AM. Group three’s pamphlet recommended no food until 11 AM or later. There was no monitoring of daily food habits. The main point that was measured was their weight as the 16 weeks went on. The participants were diabetic and none had significant weight loss.
The real conclusion you can draw from this study? Pamphlets do not cause consistent weight loss for diabetics.
Other recent studies have shown more favorable findings for breakfast. The National Weight Loss Registry shows that of those who have successfully kept off major amounts of weight for over 5 years, 90% or more have a solid breakfast at least 5 days per week. A good breakfast with protein has been shown to reduce hunger all throughout the day.
Is breakfast good for you? If you skip it your body has to make higher levels of stress hormones in the morning. More stress is not good for your heart. A major study last year tracked over 25,000 people for 16 years. Those who skipped breakfast had a 27% greater risk of heart attacks than those who did not.
Breakfast with protein is a good idea. How much? Aim for at least 30 grams.
2. Heather J. Leidy, Rebecca J. Lepping, Cary R. Savage and Corey T. Harris Neural Responses to Visual Food Stimuli After a Normal vs. Higher Protein Breakfast in Breakfast-Skipping Teens: A Pilot fMRI Study Obesity 2011 May University of Missouri