If you've ever been on a diet, or even just looked up healthy eating, chances are you've come across the following saying: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.
Made popular in the 1950s by Adelle Davis, a food and health writer, the saying hypothesises that by starting your day on a large meal, you are more likely to stay slim and less likely to overeat later in the day.
Is breakfast really that important?
Research by the University of Missouri on breakfast skipping adolescents holds eating breakfast in high regard. (1) Through a 12-week study, they compared breakfast skippers with normal and high protein breakfast eaters.
Weight gain was observed in the breakfast skipping group but not in the high protein breakfast group, indicating that eating breakfast may be beneficial to beat the bulge.
On the contrary, the part of this research that is often overlooked in the “normal” breakfast group, where moderate amounts of weight gain were also seen.
Based on this study, it seems that eating breakfast is only beneficial if it is a high protein one.
Part of the reason for the breakfast skipping weight gain may be down to changes in the way food is perceived. A study carried out by Imperial College London (2) found subjects that skip breakfast are more likely to choose and crave higher calorie foods. Needless to say, if you skip breakfast, self-control may be an issue at lunch.
Interestingly, by having a larger lunch, you’ll still be in a caloric deficit in comparison to those that eat breakfast. A study by the University of Bath (3) found breakfast skipping groups are only likely to consume and additional 200 calories which is less than the caloric value of the average breakfast. Thus it seems that breakfast skipping groups eat fewer calories in a day than breakfast eating ones.
On the other end of the spectrum, skipping breakfast may be beneficial.
Current research by the National Institute on Aging (4) indicates that repair, such as the rebuilding of internal structures, is more efficient in a fasted state. This is a big deal since health issues often arise from incomplete or flawed repair.
To add to the confusion, a recent review of scientific evidence (5) concluded that on the whole, skipping breakfast doesn't have a significant impact on weight.
So, is breakfast the most important meal of the day? It can be if you eat the correct foods.
A mix of protein, carbohydrates and nutrient dense vegetables would be an ideal start to the day.
If, however, you are more likely to have a sugar-laden bowl of cereal or you just simply aren't a breakfast person then waiting until lunchtime for a more balanced meal has its advantages.
Irrespective of your preference, choosing foods that are high in nutrients and minimally processed will be the most beneficial for overall health.
(1) Liedy HJ, Hertel HA, Douglas SM, Higgins KA, Shafer RS (2015) A high-protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in "Breakfast skipping" adolescents. Obesity, 23: 1761-1764.
(2) Goldstone AP, Prechtl de Hernandez CG, Beaver JD, Muhammed K, Croese C, Bell G, Durighel G, Hughes E, Waldman AD, Frost G, Bell JD (2009) Fasting biases brain reward systems towards high-calorie foods. European Journal of Neuroscience, 30: 1625-1635.
(3) Chowdhury EA, Richardson JD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D, Betts JA (2015) Carbohydrate-rich breakfast attenuates glycaemic, insulinaemic and ghrelin response to ad libitum lunch relative to morning fasting in lean adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 114: 98-107.
(4) Mattson MP, Longo VD, Harvie M (2016) Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Research Reviews, S1568-1637: 30251-30253.
(5) Dhurandhar EJ (2016) True, true, unrelated? A review of recent evidence for a casual influence of breakfast on obesity. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity, 23: 384-388.