For years, dietitians have advised people not to skip breakfast, in part because skipping breakfast leaves people hungry and susceptible to bingeing later on. But a study recently reported on in the New York Times seems to challenge that advice. The lead on the story caught my eye:
“Dieters are sometimes told to have a substantial breakfast, because it reduces the amount of food consumed during the rest of the day. Not so, a new study reports.”
Could it be that eating breakfast isn’t so smart for dieters? Or is breakfast important, but perhaps not “a substantial” one?
In the study, participants reported what they ate for two weeks. The study found that people didn’t eat more or less later in the day depending on what they had for breakfast. Their “nonbreakfast” calorie intake was the same whether they had a big breakfast, a small one, or none at all. The only difference, the Times reported, was that those who ate big breakfasts had bigger daily calorie intakes.
So how to interpret this? The story says a small breakfast may be the way to go if you’re counting calories, because that would keep your overall daily intake down. But the study’s senior author, a professor in Munich, seems to think skipping breakfast is the way to go. “Whenever someone comes to me for dietary advice and says, ‘I never eat breakfast,’ I say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’” Dr. Volker Schusdziarra is quoted as saying.
What do local dietitians think? That people shouldn’t use this study as an excuse to skip breakfast.
Jennifer Motl, a registered dietitian and Healthy Living columnist, e-mailed me these thoughts:
“Of course overeating at breakfast increases your calories for the day, just like overeating at any meal can overload calories. We don’t tell people who overeat at dinner to skip dinner—we tell them to eat in moderation. That applies to breakfast, too!”
Motl went on to say that, “Several international studies show that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight … Eating breakfast is especially important for people with diabetes or high blood sugar. It’s important to eat at least three times a day to help regulate blood sugar.”
Nancy Farrell of Farrell Dietitian Services in Fredericksburg said she agreed with Motl’s points, and offered more thoughts of her own:
“My first thought after reading this article was ‘who’ is telling dieters to eat ‘substantial’ breakfasts?”
Farrell said she encourages her clients “to simply eat breakfast and have regular patterns of eating meals throughout the day. I never use the word ‘substantial’ in my counseling regarding breakfast.”
Farrell noted that the study depends on the accuracy of the participants’ food journals, and “there is a noted prevalence for obese persons to under-report dietary intake.” Farrell also noted that breakfast foods typically provide people with calcium and fiber that they may not consume as much of later in the day.
Farrell also said people need to keep in mind that “obesity is a very complicated metabolic condition.” People worried about their weight need to consider a variety of factors, she said, including “genetics, meal patterns, environment, exercise, traditions, cultures, etc.”
“This study will help guide further research, but I’m not sure it applies to all individuals,” Farrell concluded.