Breakfast: Not the meal of champions?

Oct 24, 2014

For generations, parents and nutritionists repeated the claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This week on WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," hosts Linda Lowen and Lorraine Rapp speak with health reporter Gretchen Reynolds about new scientific research showing that this may not be the case. Gretchen Reynolds writes for The New York Times Well blog

Lorraine Rapp: For years we’ve been told not to skip breakfast especially if we’re trying to lose weight. Why all of a sudden, are the experts backing off that advice?

Gretchen Reynolds: It’s important to understand why we all started to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that’s because there were a number of quite large studies that showed an association between eating breakfast and not being heavy. People who were thin tended to eat breakfast. But those studies can’t actually prove that one thing causes the other; that eating breakfast causes you to be thin. However, they were impressive enough that all of our parents and now most of us insist on telling our kids you have to eat breakfast or  you will overeat and gain weight.

Rapp: It is just amazing, as you said, that all of these years and for generations we were told that we had to eat breakfast for all the different reasons and it turns out there was no scientific proof that it was true and I’m glad somebody finally decided to put that to the test.

Reynolds: What’s interesting now is a couple of scientists have actually done what are called randomized trials meaning they take people and say ‘half of you are eating breakfast, half of you are not.’ And those kind of studies can actually tell us whether one thing causes another and it turns out, at least in these studies, that eating breakfast had almost no effect on whether people gained or lost weight.

Linda Lowen: So we can be guided by our own sense of hunger; if we’re hungry for something to eat in the morning, we call it breakfast and we eat it and if we aren’t hungry we don’t eat it?

Reynolds: Well yes, what’s interesting is there was another study published about the same time and it looked at part at whether people who skipped breakfast and just stuffed themselves the rest of the day. And this was a group of lean people and they randomized some to eat breakfast and some to skip breakfast. And then they watched how much people ate the rest of the day and also how much their blood sugar and other measures of sort of metabolic health were affected by eating breakfast and the people who ate breakfast tended to move around a little bit more during the day. The people who didn’t eat breakfast moved around a little less but also ate a lot less. So in fact, at the end of the day, both of those groups of people had taken in and burned up about the exact same amount of calories. The calorie intake and output was exactly the same.

Lowen: So can we take the new guidelines as being let your hunger dictate what you do in the morning whether you eat or don’t eat?

Reynolds: I would say these studies would suggest, yes. You can probably listen to your own appetite.  Again, these are small studies, they’re being repeated. We’ll see after that, we all know sometimes science changes its mind with yet more studies but, it looks like your body knows what you need.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.