A new study questions the long-held notion that skipping breakfast is inherently bad for our health – or at least for our weight. Though earlier studies have found correlations between breakfast-eating and better health outcomes, few studies have put it to the test in randomized clinical trials, the gold standard in scientific research. In the new study, dieters who ate breakfast lost no more weight than people who skipped breakfast. But keep in mind that the study only looked at weight outcomes – not at any other aspect of health, like cardiovascular or metabolic health. So, the take-home message is that skipping breakfast may be OK for weight loss, but how it affects health overall is still up for grabs.
The study authors wanted to fill in a hole left by previous research: That most studies have tried to correlate diet with health by asking participants to report on their diets and then looking at the participants’ health. This is not a very accurate way to analyze things, so the new study wanted to do better. “Previous studies have mostly demonstrated correlation, but not necessarily causation,” said study author Emily Dhurandhar, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “In contrast, we used a large, randomized controlled trial to examine whether or not breakfast recommendations have a causative effect on weight loss, with weight change as our primary outcome.”
So she and her team had more than 300 overweight and obese participants consume diets that included either eating or skipping breakfast.
At the end of 16 weeks, the two groups, the breakfast-eaters and breakfast-skippers, both lost about the same amount of weight.
The authors say that these results are noteworthy enough to actually change the recommendations that doctors and nutritionists make to their patients trying to lose weight. “Now that we know the general recommendation of ‘eat breakfast every day’ has no differential impact on weight loss, we can move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness,” says Dhurandhar. “We should try to understand why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism.”
The last point that Dhurandhar brings up is an important caveat: There are very good studies that suggest that skipping breakfast does influence our health in other meaningful ways. For instance, it’s well known to affect metabolism, since it forces the body to stay in a fasting state for a longer period of time. Last year, a study found that skipping breakfast was linked to coronary heart disease, presumably because the extra time fasting leads to a rise in a group of factors that together increase heart risk. “Prolonged fasting,” says study author Leah Cahill, “leads to increases in diastolic and systolic blood pressure, blood concentrations of insulin, triglycerides, free fatty acids and LDL-cholesterol, and to decreases in blood concentrations of HDL-cholesterol.”
Read more: Forbes