There’s a new study looking at eating breakfast and weight loss.
In the past, some studies suggested that eating breakfast might help promote weight loss, while skipping a morning meal might lead to weight gain.
But according to a new published January in the BMJ, there’s no strong evidence to support the idea that eating breakfast aids weight loss.
The authors of the review looked at data from 13 randomized controlled trials conducted over the past three decades, mostly in the United States and United Kingdom.
They found that people who ate breakfast tended to consume more calories per day than people who skipped it. On average, breakfast eaters ate 260 more calories in a day, meaning it’s unlikely they ate significantly lighter at other meals even though they consumed extra calories in the morning.
The authors also found that people who ate breakfast tended to weigh slightly more than people who skipped it. On average, breakfast eaters were 0.44 kilograms (15.5 ounces) heavier.
But does this mean breakfast is “unhealthy”? Not exactly.
“Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, such as improved concentration and attentiveness levels in childhood, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults,” the authors wrote.
According to the authors of the new review, more research is needed to examine the role breakfast might play in weight management.
The authors warned existing data on this topic is of limited quality.
For example, most of the clinical trials they assessed included small numbers of participants. Only two of the trials included more than 50 people.
The average length of the trials was also short. They were conducted over periods of 2 to 16 weeks, providing no evidence on the long-term effects of breakfast habits.
The results also varied from one trial to another. For example, eight trials found that breakfast eaters tended to consume more calories per day than breakfast skippers, but two trials found the opposite.
“As the authors suggest, the quality of the data is low and the results need to be interpreted with caution,” Rahaf Al Bochi, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.
“Research suggests that the benefits of breakfast are beyond weight,” she continued. “At the end of the day, nutritional requirements are very individual. It is important that you seek a registered dietitian for personalized nutrition recommendations.”
After reading the new review, some experts have raised concerns about the contents of the breakfasts that people were given in clinical trials.
“When you look at the intervention groups, what they were given for breakfast is not generally what we would recommend people eat,” Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.
For example, participants in several trials were given processed cereals, such as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies or Frosted Flakes. In one study, they were given white bread with strawberry jam. These foods are high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein.
“I could see where this would add weight gain, because if you have a really high-carbohydrate breakfast, especially without fiber or protein, that makes people hungry again sooner,” Weinandy said.
“It makes your blood sugar go up fast, and your body secretes a lot of insulin to pull it back down, and then people get hungry again more quickly,” she explained.
Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and bariatric program director at Lenox Hill Hospital, agrees.
“It’s not the breakfast, it’s what we’re eating for breakfast,” Zarabi said.
Breakfasts rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help people feel full for longer, compared to meals high in refined carbohydrates, she says.
That’s why it’s not enough to count calories, she adds.
Instead, Zarabi encourages people to pay attention to the macronutrient contents of their meals and choose foods rich in nutrients.
Eating breakfast isn’t a sure-fire way to lose weight, but it might have other benefits.
Weinandy says it gives people a chance to get some of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need for optimum health.
“Skipping breakfast is almost seen as a missed opportunity for getting some of those nutrients that most Americans are not getting enough of, like potassium, calcium, and fiber,” she said.
If people eat nutrient-rich foods later in the day, then skipping breakfast might not be a problem. But in her experience, many breakfast skippers reach for unhealthy snacks instead.
That’s one of the reasons why Weinandy encourages many clients to start their day with breakfast. However, she thinks it’s important to take people’s individual needs and preferences into account.
“In general, I do recommend breakfast,” she said, “but there are pockets of people that it may or may not make a difference with. I don’t think we have enough information, one way or another.”
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating or weight management.
“I think everyone responds to different diets differently. What works for one person may not always work for another,” Zarabi said.
“I think it’s important to speak with the person, probe to learn what has worked for them in the past, and try to make things sustainable,” she added.
For people who eat breakfast, the healthiest approach is to choose foods rich in nutrients and low in refined sugars and unhealthy fats.
“I would recommend that you choose a balanced breakfast that nourishes your body. Aim to include a source of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and a vegetable or fruit,” Al Bochi said.
“For example, this can be an avocado and egg in a whole-wheat tortilla wrap, Greek yogurt with berries and nuts, oats with fruit and nut butter, or a protein bar. Limit breakfast foods that are processed and high in refined sugars,” she continued.
Eating nutritious foods throughout the rest of the day is also important for supporting not only weight management, but good overall health.
A new study finds there’s still not enough clear evidence that breakfast will help with weight loss.
But experts say eating a meal in the morning can be beneficial to your health in other ways. They point out that sticking with a balanced breakfast is likely a good choice, even if it doesn’t lead to a slimmer waistline.