It’s been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you’re looking to lose weight, can eating a healthy breakfast have a role in shedding pounds? Or is skipping breakfast a helpful strategy for weight loss?
The answer: Breakfast eating may not help with weight loss in the short term, but a breakfast habit may be a helpful habit for long term weight maintenance and metabolic health. In other words, there are many good reasons to fuel up in the morning if you feel hungry enough.
Research on breakfast and weight loss is inconsistent. A 2020 review published in the journal Obesity found that among seven randomized controlled trials with a total of 425 participants, skipping breakfast led to a weight loss of only one pound over two months compared to eating breakfast. However, the average duration of these studies was only about eight weeks. Future studies on the topic should include large, more diverse population groups and longer follow-up periods, according to Jessica Malloy, a registered dietitian and a coach for the New York City-based digital health platform Noom.
There are many older, larger and longer studies that show an observed relationship between eating breakfast and reduced risk of gaining weight, but that doesn’t mean there’s an exact cause and effect, says Malloy.
There is some research that finds time-restricted eating — during which a person consumes calories in a certain time window, such as in 8- to 12-hour time intervals — can promote loss of body fat. This includes those who eat in a later time window and don’t have breakfast, says Sparta, New Jersey-based registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet.”
Time-restricted eating is one form of intermittent fasting, during which you avoid eating during specific time periods.
However, when comparing people who follow a time-restricted eating plan with those who eat in an earlier time window — such as when we might usually have breakfast — eating in the earlier time window helped to improve feelings of satiety after meals and allowed for better portion control, Palinski-Wade explains. Although it was a small study, a 2020 study in the journal Obesity showed this in a trial with 11 adults who were overweight. This study also showed a 2.5 times greater weight loss on the same number of calories in a group of women who frontloaded calories and carbs to breakfast when compared to eating a smaller, low-carb breakfast and backloading calories during dinner.
Why Breakfast Is Good for You
Whether you want to lose weight or just stay healthy, there are several good reasons to eat breakfast:
— It can help regulate your appetite the rest of the day, Palinski-Wade says. If you’ve already eaten breakfast, you’re less likely to grab less healthy energy sources late in the morning, such as donuts or sugary drinks.
— You help prevent blood sugar swings. Blood sugar is another name for the glucose, which is the main sugar that we get from food and drinks. Maintaining a balanced blood sugar level is especially important if you have diabetes. Even without diabetes, it’s healthier to consume foods that won’t increase your blood sugar frequently.
— You can fill up on healthy nutrients your body needs such as protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, says Ali Webster, director of research and nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C.
What’s Good for Your Body at Breakfast
A well-rounded breakfast can include:
— Fiber that helps your digestive system work regularly by helping you feel full faster.
— Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids. They can aid in heart health,as well as brain and nervous system function. One way monounsaturated fats help your heart is by lowering your “bad,” or LDL, cholesterol. Omega 3 fatty acids can lower triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood.
— Protein to give you energy and help you feel fuller. That’s because eating it releases hormones like glucagon-like peptide 1 that help you feel like you’ve had enough to eat.
You can focus on one of these areas with your breakfast. Or, better yet, combine them for a delectable morning meal.
Here are a few examples of healthy breakfast meals that combine fiber, good fats and lean protein:
— A smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt, whole milk and fruit. “This can be a sweet and filling breakfast on busy mornings,” Palinski-Wade says. Plain Greek yogurt should have little or no sugar, compared with flavored Greek yogurt, which often contains added sugars. You can also add chia seeds, flaxseeds or hemp hearts to get some unsaturated, omega-3 fats.
— Scrambled eggs on whole grain toast. Add egg whites for a protein boost.
— Overnight oats made with rolled oats and topped with chopped walnuts. Oats provide fiber, and the chopped walnuts have protein and fat. Another oatmeal idea: oatmeal with nut butter stirred in with fruit on top. Try cut-up apples, Malloy recommends.
— Vegetable omelet with fruit on the side. In addition to a traditional omelet, Palinski-Wade has a recipe for a veggie omelet you can make in the microwave in just two minutes using a coffee mug.
— Yogurt topped with berries and peanut butter toast on the side.
What about coffee? So many of us love that cup of Joe in the morning, but is it healthy? And can coffee help you lose weight? Coffee may give you an energy boost, but it won’t help your weight loss efforts. Though it can offer other health benefits, such as age-fighting antioxidants, potassium and magnesium.
“Where we often run into trouble is with all of the things added to coffee,” Webster says. “Sugar, syrups and lots of coffee creamer can turn this healthy drink into a significant source of added sugar and extra calories.”
Try to have more than just coffee for breakfast, Palinski-Wade says. Also, watch your caffeine intake. The Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting caffeine intake to 400 milligrams a day or less. A regular cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine.
Older adults and those with high blood pressure are more likely to have negative effects from coffee, Malloy says. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your health provider before drinking caffeinated coffee.
When You’re Not Hungry in the Morning
While there are plenty of benefits associated with eating breakfast, you may just be one of those people who isn’t hungry in the morning. If that’s the case, don’t worry too much about it. Everyone is different.
“Do what works best for you,” Malloy advises. “Breakfast is not a predictor of weight loss or weight gain. If you’re not hungry, don’t feel pressured to eat.”
If you find yourself having food cravings or dips in energy later in the morning, you may want to start to eat something. Even a handful of almonds can provide some fuel, Palinski-Wade says. Once you get used to a light breakfast, you can move on to eating more if you have more of an appetite for it. On the other hand, many people aren’t hungry in the morning because they eat sizable dinners at night. Eating less at night can help you wake up hungrier.
You also should make the effort to eat something if you know you’ll have a busy day and may not be able to eat for a while, Malloy advises.
Ultimately, eating nutrient-dense foods is just as important if not more important than when you eat, Palinski-Wade says. By focusing on the quality and nutritional balance of your meals regardless of when you eat them, you’ll go a long way in regulating your appetite and portion sizes.
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Update 03/30/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.