• There’s 'no one size fits all' approach to weight loss and eating breakfast. (Moment RF/Getty Images)
If you skip breakfast, there's no need to feel guilty. Despite what we've been told for years, new Australian research now suggests that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day to prevent weight gain or the onset of hunger.
By
Yasmin Noone

31 Jan 2019 - 10:31 AM  UPDATED 31 Jan 2019 - 12:49 PM

Hold onto your flaky croissant and spicy shakshuka eggs: new Australian research has just shattered one of the most widespread food myths, integral to the diets of people of all cultures in developed countries across the globe.

Despite what we’ve been told for years, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day for weight loss or to prevent the onset of hunger.

A review published in The BMJ today suggests that all meals are created equal and there is no good evidence to support the idea that eating breakfast promotes weight loss or that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.

The research also shows that you don’t have to eat a good breakfast in order to set you up for the day or to stop you from getting hangry later in afternoon.

“We found that breakfast is not the most important time of the day to eat, even though that belief is really entrenched in our society and around the world,” says study co-author, Monash University professor and head of rheumatology at Alfred Hospital, Flavia Cicuttini.

“If you eat breakfast, you won’t metabolise [your food] better and you may still be hungry later on. If a person is trying to lose weight or manage their calorie intake there’s no evidence that changing their dietary plan to eat breakfast will help them.”

“We found that breakfast is not the most important time of the day to eat, even though that belief is really entrenched in our society and around the world."

Previous studies have suggested that eating breakfast is linked with maintaining a healthy weight, but these findings have been observational and may reflect an individual’s wider healthy lifestyle and food choices.

Meanwhile this new study, conducted by Monash University researchers, used evidence from 13 randomised controlled trials in developed countries, including the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Japan over 28 years to determine the effect of regularly eating breakfast on weight change and daily energy intake.

It found that total daily energy intake was higher in groups who ate breakfast compared with those who skipped it by an average of 260 more calories consumed in a day, regardless of their usual breakfast habits. Participants who skipped breakfast were also 0.44 kg lighter, on average.

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The effect of breakfast on weight did not differ between people with a normal weight and those who were overweight. There was no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and skippers.

Prof Cicuttini tells SBS the researchers also conducted sub-analyses, eliminating data from the Japanese study to see if a person’s culture impacted the relationship between breakfast consumption, weight and metabolism. The results showed that an individual’s culture had no impact.

“There’s nothing protective about having a pastry, just because you eat it in the morning. It has the same impact on your calorie intake if you have it for breakfast as though you have it at 4pm."

The findings reveal that consuming a hearty breakfast after you wake up could have the same impact on your body as having a big dinner before bed.

So, should we be having small breakfasts instead of large meals and perhaps start the day as Italian or French culture dictates, with a simple coffee and pastry or piece of bread, and enjoy a large lunch instead? Is a small and light breakfast the way to go?

Prof Cicuttini explains that the focus should be not placed on when we eat our largest meal of the day – whether it’s at lunch or breakfast – but on total daily calorie content.

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“There’s nothing protective about having a pastry, just because you eat it in the morning,” she says. “It has the same impact on your calorie intake if you have it for breakfast as though you have it at 4pm.

“The big myth that has prevailed is that, somehow, if you eat breakfast you would be safer than if you don’t eat breakfast. Yet this study suggests that if you have a pastry and coffee in the morning, you will have to watch what you eat in the rest of the day. A pastry is a pastry, is a pastry.”

“So if you eat breakfast and it suits you, then you shouldn’t change. But what we tend to see is that there’s a strong push towards eating breakfast because ‘you should’. Well the evidence now says that’s not the case."

There's no need to be a breakfast hater

Prof Cicuttini wants breakfast lovers to know that the study’s authors are not anti-breakfast. “There are lots of reasons why people eat breakfast – growing children might want to eat before they go to school, older people might need to eat after taking medication or it could be a cultural tradition,” she says. “Or, you might just enjoy eating breakfast foods.

“So if you eat breakfast and it suits you, then you shouldn’t change. But what we tend to see is that there’s a strong push towards eating breakfast because ‘you should’. Well the evidence now says that’s not the case."

More research is needed into the impact of breakfast on metabolism and weight. However, as the study reads: “currently, the available evidence does not support modifying diets in adults to include the consumption of breakfast as a good strategy to lose weight”.

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