TO breakfast or not to breakfast – that is the question.
Every other week, we hear conflicting views on whether we should be starting our day with a hearty meal or not.
Some say it’s still the most important meal of the day while many agree that the best way to burn fat is to forgo breakfast in favour of a fast.
But that’s the truth? We look at the evidence…
Skipping breakfast can help you lose weight
Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight – and skipping breakfast can be key to the diet regime.
“It does seem that when we are in a fasting state for longer, our body is more predisposed to burn fat as a way of supplying you with enough energy,” explains nutritionist and women’s health adviser, Emma Thornton.
“This, in addition to a sensible calorie intake over the course of the day, can result in sustainable fat loss.
“But more surprisingly, research also suggests that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than other calorie restricted diets, making it particularly appealing to those that also consciously work out.”
A number of recent studies have agreed.
Earlier this year, the BMJ released a study by scientists who reviewed the results of 13 separate trials on breakfast eating, weight change and energy intake.
They found that that skipping breakfast might be a better way to reduce total daily calorie intake.
According to their findings, breakfast eaters consumed more calories overall and breakfast skippers did not have a greater appetite in the afternoon.
It does seem that when we are in a fasting state for longer, our body is more predisposed to burn fat as a way of supplying you with enough energy
Emma Thornton, nutritionist
You might think that not eating in the morning would leave you more hungry but actually, breakfast often leaves us feeling more peckish.
Why? It’s all down to blood sugar.
When we eat carbs, our bodies convert it into glucose (sugar) that ends up in our blood. Our blood glucose levels then rise.
The quicker they rise, the quicker they fall – and that’s what causes hunger, lethargy and sugar cravings.
Ian Marber, nutrition consultant and founder of The Food Doctor, said: “A very high-carb breakfast with little fibre and protein to slow the digestive process can lead to short-term energy as well as hunger, often within a couple of hours.”
You can counteract that by making sure that your breakfast has a good mix of healthy fats, protein and carbs which would keep you feeling more satisfied.
But does famine just store fat?
“If you miss breakfast your body immediately registers famine and hangs on tight to your ample stores of fat,” leading UK nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville told The Sun.
“When you have breakfast you are literally ‘breaking the fast’, this supports the idea that you shouldn’t skip breakfast.
“Sleeping causes your metabolism (fat burning capability) to slow right down and nothing gets it going faster than breakfast.
“The break from food when you sleep gives your digestion a well-deserved rest, but delaying food for too long may lead to overeating when you do decide to eat and in turn cause you to choose sugary foods instead of more balanced options in order to give you that instant energy hit.
“You may also find you play ‘catch up’ with your calories leaving you eating far more than you should late at night, when it is more likely to be stored as fat then used for energy.”
Some of us actually just like eating breakfast
Sophie Bertrand, registered associate nutritionist, told The Sun: “Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Well, it is for some people… for others, maybe not.
“I have clients that absolutely love breakfast.
“It sets them up for the day and gives them energy in the morning.
“But for some people, they really don’t dig the breakfast scene.
“Some prefer brunch, some like to snack – it really just depends on the individual.
“The important thing to be aware of is that you don’t skip breakfast because you’re restricting – it may then become a problem and that’s when you need to question your relationship with food.
“It is also important not to compare your food choices with other people.
“We all have different food preferences and different physiological needs so try and focus on what is best for you and your body.”
So, what’s the best breakfast to eat on a diet?
Emma told The Sun: “When it comes to breakfast, I feel we are often mislead into thinking carb-heavy options are the way to go and they are often considered the norm.
“Unfortunately breakfast cereals are one of the worst culprits – they are often loaded with sugar and refined carbs which will only risk causing havoc with our blood sugar levels.
“Fluctuating blood sugar levels can be problematic, not only for weight loss but also for our overall health.
“In the short-term, wobbly blood sugar can give rise to cravings and mood swings and longer-term diabetes and metabolic syndrome are a greater risk.
“My advice is to always ensure we are including sources of protein and healthy fats in our diet, and this includes breakfast if you’re having it.
“Eggs, nuts, 100 per cent nut butters, seeds, full-fat yoghurt and wholegrains such as oats or millet are all good options.”
We haven't always eaten breakfast
It turns out having something to eat first thing is a relatively new phenomenon.
The Romans didn’t have breakfast – in fact, they actively frowned upon eating early.
“The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day,” food historian Caroline Yeldham told the BBC back in 2012.
“They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.”
It wasn’t until the 17th century that people started to have breakfast, with wealthy folk starting to eat things like scrambled eggs and coffee at the start of the day.
What’s gone on to become the full English Breakfast existed (bacon and eggs) but it wasn’t eaten in the morning.
The Victorian Era was when people of all classes started having breakfast because people needed energy to go out to work.
By the 1920s and 30s, the government started promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day and again, most folk were working in physical jobs – in factories, down mines or on the land.
Today, most of us are totally sedentary. We sit down for the vast majority of the day and we’re getting fatter as a result; we’re eating more and moving less.
So it would make sense that taking out one of our meals might make up for that.
Dr Glenville says: “Oats are a good source of slow-releasing energy and, unlike most other breakfast cereals, don’t contain any added sugar.
“This means they can help to keep your energy stable until lunchtime, rather than causing a crash by mid-morning!
“Being whole grains, oats are a natural source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B1, magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc, which have many vital roles in the body including supporting energy and immunity.
“Most breakfast cereals are low in these natural nutrients and have to be fortified with synthetic vitamins, which may not be as easily used by our body.”
Should we eat breakfast or not?
Ultimately, it’s all down to the individual.
“For someone with blood sugar dysregulation eating a healthy, balanced breakfast can be a great way to start the day,” explains Emma.
“If clients can tolerate it, I do find that eating breakfast a little later in the morning, say 9 or 10am can be a useful tactic. This means that they’ve been able to extend the overnight fast which can have positive effects on eating habits for the rest of the day, as well as longer term, metabolic advantages.”
If you like eating breakfast and enjoy having regular meals, then keep having it.
MORE ON DIET
But if you don’t tend to feel hungry until later in the day then there’s no point in pushing yourself to eat when you don’t really need to.
There’s still not enough research to categorically say whether intermittent fasting works and certainly, if you don’t have a good relationship with food already, it might cause you difficulties.
Depriving yourself of food in the name of weight loss is both dangerous for your mental health and counter-intuitive.
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