Should I eat breakfast?
Research conducted by Monash University in Australia was published recently, questioning breakfast's reputation as "the most important meal of the day". I take a closer look at the study, it's implications, and what it didn't take into account.
This blog is an analysis I posted to my Facebook page. I thought I would pop it up here on my website, as it addresses some important concerns about the research, and similar concerns have been expressed in the media.
Original post, February 4th, 2019:
A study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that skipping breakfast isn't associated with an increased risk of weight gain (via the consumption of a greater amount of energy later in the day, over-compensating for the missed meal) as previously thought. The study actually found that breakfast eaters consumed slightly more energy (260 kilocalories/1088 kilojoules) on average in a day, and gained just under a half a kilogram more than breakfast skippers, concluding that eating breakfast shouldn't be recommended as part of a weight-loss strategy.
Of course, this study has made quite the headline!
However, I feel there are a few major considerations to keep in mind, before you go changing your habits from eating breakfast to skipping breakfast...
This study focused solely on weight and energy consumption.
There was no consideration given to the effect of skipping breakfast on nutritional intake. For many, breakfast is an opportunity to tick off a serve or two from some pretty important food groups, and get a range of essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on board as well. If you have 1/2 cup of wholegrain cereal, and serve it with milk and a piece of fruit, you've taken care of 1/6 of your grains and cereals, 1/2 of your dairy*, and 1/2 of your fruit serves already - putting you well on the track to meeting your nutrient needs. (*recommended serves of dairy are greater for some older individuals).
You've also eaten a chunk of your dietary fibre (and New Zealanders only eat on average 2/3 of the recommended amount anyway), which will benefit your gut health and decrease your risk of a range of diseases.
The positive effect of breakfast consumption on concentration levels, especially in children.
I don't know about you (and we are all different), but if I tried to get through the morning without breakfast, I'd chew my own arm off. I'd also be too distracted (by hunger pangs and my rumbling tummy) to focus on my work that well. But like I said, we are all different. If you regularly skip breakfast because you just don't feel like eating first thing on the morning, then you are listening to your own hunger cues - which is great. Just make sure you have some nutritious food close at hand when you do feel like eating later on that morning.
The short time-frame of the studies (how long the study participants were followed) in the researchers' review.
The studies varied in length from 2 weeks to 16 weeks - not very long, and likely not long enough to make any firm conclusions about the impact of breakfast consumption patterns on weight and energy intake. We all gain and lose a little weight at various times of the month (I'm not sure if other confounding factors like fluid retention were taken into account), and year (seasonal variation is common, think comfort foods in winter!). This is perfectly natural, and the small amount of weight difference mentioned in this review (an average of 440 grams, with a very wide variation in individual amounts, as low as 7 grams!) may well be accounted for within natural variations.
No information on the foods eaten at breakfast was supplied.
Most of the studies in the review were conducted in either the United Kingdom or the United States.
Typical breakfasts eaten in these countries are likely to differ considerably from the sort of breakfasts regularly consumed in New Zealand, and this may limit the application of the results to the Kiwi context.
It just makes me a little sad to see research focused solely on weight outcomes that may convince people to skip a meal they really enjoy - one that has a positive impact on their nutrient intake and happiness!
The bottom line is that if you currently enjoy eating breakfast, don't change your routine.
A better approach might be to take a look at your regular breakfast options and compare them to current healthy eating guidelines. Aim to tick off some of your food group serves at breakfast, and you will be making full use of the opportunity to nourish your body. And if you don't eat breakfast because you're not hungry in the mornings, or just don't feel like it? Then that is what works for you, don't force yourself to eat when you can't face breakfast. But do make sure you have something nutritious on hand when the munchies do hit later in the morning!
If you want to download a FREE copy of my breakfast e-book, follow this link: https://www.thrivenutrition.nz and wait for the pop-up box...