Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal. For years, dieters heard that eating breakfast staves off hunger. School children are told eating breakfast makes you smarter. Breakfast has become the hot fast food market. Yet recent studies are raising questions about whether breakfast is needed or not and how important it is for starting a day.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition features several articles in its August issue on research studies at various institutions that looked at breakfast and its reported nutritional value. The research does not support the idea that breakfast has a strong impact on a person’s day.
Two studies look at claims that breakfast helps people lose weight and boosts metabolism. In one study conducted at the University of Bath, researchers asked 33 lean adults to either eat a 700-calorie breakfast or nothing in the morning. After six weeks, the metabolic rates for both groups remained the same. In addition, those who skipped breakfast did not rend to compensate by eating more at lunch. Furthermore, there was no difference in weight loss or gain between the groups.
In another, longer study, researchers at several locations assigned 300 overweight people to groups ordered to either eat breakfast, skip it or a control group just told to eat healthy. There was no real difference in weight gain/loss between the groups. They did find that the breakfast eaters tended to burn more calories a day than the nonbreakfast eaters. They also determined that those who consumed breakfast maintained steadier blood sugar levels throughout the day. Conversely, those that skipped breakfast were more sluggish first thing in the morning.
Adults are not the only ones sluggish in the morning. There have been other studies on whether breakfast is needed or not for schoolchildren. They have shown that children do perform better academically after they are served breakfast at school. One theory on this, however, is that the kids would otherwise be distracted by hunger waiting for lunch. Those adults who have sat in a meeting dragging on just before lunch can relate, but there is no evidence that those not distracted at school or work by hunger perform differently if they had a morning meal.
Adults believing they need to grab breakfast on the way to work or for the kids has propelled the fast food morning options into a considerable marketplace, even outside of places with green mermaid logos. An estimated $30-plus billion market, half of all consumers purchased a quick-service breakfast at some point in 2011. That is an increase from only one-third of consumers in 2009. Figures for 2013 are not available, but are estimated to be even higher as more chains, like Taco Bell, expanded their morning meal marketing. While the large chains fight for the breakfast bucks, it is important for consumers to remember there is a big difference between a waffle taco, a Krispy Kreme, an Egg White Delight, a Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato, oatmeal or a fast food jumbo breakfast platter with eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, hash browns and almost a day’s worth of calories.
So, should people eat breakfast, skip it, view it as brunch, or what? Clearly more studies are needed. However, based on those conducted, people who want breakfast should make educated, healthy choices and stay physically active throughout the day. Those who do not want breakfast, should not feel guilty or think they will lose weight as a result. While many breakfast myths have been dispelled, the answer for now as to whether the meal is needed or not depends on personal preference.
By Dyanne Weiss