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Skipping Breakfast: Do the Benefits “Outweigh” the Risks?

Friday, October 16th, 2015

By Vineeta Rao, PharmD Student Cedarville University

You have heard the concept all over the news and social media: Skipping breakfast leads to weight gain. Nutritionists and researchers have long speculated that when one skips breakfast, his hunger and lack of energy will cause a rebound-effect in which he will consume more calories by snacking than he would have if he had eaten breakfast.2 But a recent study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that when men and women skip breakfast, they actually consume far fewer calories compared to the days when they do eat breakfast.1

Breakfastpic

In this traditional crossover study, participants were allowed to eat as they pleased and report their own eating habits to the study investigators. Investigators consulted the same patients on various occasions to obtain a report of how many meals they had eaten, what they had eaten for each meal, and what time of day they had eaten. Then, investigators examined each person’s data individually; they compared the participant’s calorie intake on the days when he or she ate breakfast to a day when he or she did not eat breakfast. Researchers also included any snacking between meals in the total calorie count. On average, men in the study consumed 247 kcal more on a breakfast day than a non-breakfast day, and women consumed 187 kcal more on a breakfast day than on a non-breakfast day.1 Apparently, snacking was not enough to make up the calories lost from skipping breakfast! If participants regularly ate a few hundred fewer calories a day, then over time, breakfast skipping actually led to weight loss rather than weight gain.

Overall, the participant’s choices in food were similar between breakfast days and non-breakfast days, with breakfast days containing more whole grains, fruits, and dairy.1 One limitation of this study is that participants reported their own diet choices.1 Thus, if a patient forgot to report a snack item, the calorie deficit calculated above would not be correct. Additionally, participants tend to change their food choices when they know that they are being monitored.

Researchers all over the world cannot seem to agree on this matter. Skipping breakfast goes against the current standard of care, but it shows compelling evidence that it may actually assist in weight loss. Although many researchers have suspected that skipping breakfast will cause people to snack more frequently and to choose unhealthy snacks that lead to weight gain, very few research studies have shown this to be true. For example, one study that expected this to be true examined the effects of skipping breakfast in children in Taiwan and did not find any connections between skipping breakfast and obesity.2

So, does this mean that we should encourage breakfast skipping as a weight-loss strategy? An editorial response to this research study says yes! Because obesity and weight gain is associated with risks for chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, getting rid of this small but significant calorie intake could help to prevent such diseases.3

However, other researchers are not convinced. The study in Taiwanese children found that breakfast-skipping may not be suitable for all people. For example, this study found that children who ate breakfast regularly had better cognitive ability and academic performance than children who did not eat breakfast regularly.2

Additionally, some research studies have shown that skipping breakfast can actually increase the risk of developing Type II diabetes by decreasing insulin tolerance and raising blood sugar. When three universities in China examined the risk factors that lead to Type II diabetic patients’ condition, they found skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk for the disease.4

So what can we learn from all these findings? In short, skipping breakfast does not appear to lead to weight gain, but the current research on other health risks and benefits of skipping breakfast is controversial. You most likely won’t have to worry about gaining weight from missing breakfast now and then due to a busy schedule, but the research is too gray to conclude that skipping breakfast is safe and healthy for everyone. One fact that remains true across all these studies is that the quality of the food you eat matters. Whether you eat breakfast or not, it is important to eat a balanced diet with whole foods, good sources of protein, and a focus on non-starchy vegetables. Nutrient-rich diets are important in healthy weight management and prevention of disease states.5

What do you think? Does the benefit of weight loss “outweigh” the possibility of potentially contributing to the development of chronic diseases?

References:

  1. Kant AK, Graubard BI. Within-person comparison of eating behaviors, time of eating, and dietary intake on days with and without breakfast: NHANES 2005-2010. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):661-70.
  2. Ho C, Huang Y, Lo YC, Wahlqvist ML, Lee M. Breakfast is associated with the metabolic syndrome and school performance among taiwanese children. Res Dev Disabil. 2015;43–44:179-188.
  3. Levitsky DA. Breaking the feast. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):531-2.
  4. Bi H, Gan Y, Yang C, Chen Y, Tong X, Lu Z. Breakfast skipping and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Public Health Nutr. 2015:1-7.
  5. United States Department of Agriculture. Scientific Report of Dietary Guidelines 2015 Advisory Committee. <http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf>