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Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day, after all

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 2019-01-30 Laura Donnelly
Top view on two toasts with avocado on a wooden tray on a table. The concept of vegetarian and healthy diet food. Top view on two toasts with avocado on a wooden tray on a table. The concept of vegetarian and healthy diet food.

The theory that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may not hold true, research suggests.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that those who eat breakfast consume significantly more calories than those who skip the meal - and end up weighing more.

For decades, health experts have exhorted people not to miss breakfast, with warnings that those trying to keep their weight down by missing a meal will simply end up snacking more later.

Baked egg slice enjoying breakfast on a beautiful day Baked egg slice enjoying breakfast on a beautiful day

But the new research, led by Australian researchers, found those who skipped breakfast consumed 260 fewer calories per day, on average.

Previous studies have suggested that eating breakfast fires up the metabolism and can help dieters stop overeating later in the day.

NHS advice warns: “Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. In fact, research shows that people who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.”

Video: How healthy are hard-boiled eggs, exactly? (Cooking Light)

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However, the new study suggests otherwise - and found those who skip breakfast do not compensate by eating more later in the day.

The researchers also found no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and skippers - suggesting there is no evidence that eating breakfast may help with weight loss due to "efficient" burning of calories earlier in the day.

Experts from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, examined 13 randomised controlled trials related to breakfast and weight in high-income countries, including the UK.

Delicious pancakes with blackberries on white wooden background Delicious pancakes with blackberries on white wooden background

Most of the studies tracked participants for less than a month, with the longest trial lasting 16 weeks.

On average, those who skipped breakfast were a pound lighter than those who did not, the pooled results found.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), they said: "This study suggests that the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss, regardless of established breakfast habit.

"Caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect."

Calling for further research to be done, they said: "While breakfast has been advocated as the most important meal of the day in the media since 1917, there is a paucity of evidence to support breakfast consumption as a strategy to achieve weight loss."

However, they said eating breakfast could have other important effects, such as improving concentration and attentiveness levels in children.

Gallery: Breakfast mistakes that interfere with healthy living (The Daily Meal)

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology, King’s College London, said the mantra of breakfast being the most important meal of the day had been ingrained in most of us from childhood, and reinforced by campaigns such as “go to work on an egg”.

But he said the findings guggested it was “just another diet myth”.

“Over the past 50 years we have been bombarded with messages extolling the health benefits of various processed cereals and porridge oats. The British fry-up is thought by many to be the country’s main contribution to world cuisine. We are told that breakfast helps our metabolism and that skipping it will make us much hungrier so we’ll over-eat and put on weight.”

wine, jamon, pears and sandwiches are on the table wine, jamon, pears and sandwiches are on the table

“The disadvantages of skipping breakfast have now been debunked by several randomised trials,” he said.

“Reasonable evidence now suggests that skipping breakfast can actually be a useful strategy to reduce weight.”

Dr Frankie Phillips, registered dietitian for the British Dietetic Association, said: "The study shows that simply having breakfast isn't a magic recipe for weight loss for everyone.

Homemade sandwich with ham, lettuce, cheese and tomato on wooden background Homemade sandwich with ham, lettuce, cheese and tomato on wooden background

"If you do enjoy breakfast, don't stop, but take a look at what you are having.

"Breakfast has the potential to be one of the easiest times of the day to eat a balanced meal, and to meet a number of nutrition targets.”

The most important meal of the day: how the myth was spawned

John Harvey Kellogg, a surgeon who ran a sanitorium, popularised the idea of breakfast cereal as a health food, after he and his brother invented a flaked cereal they called Corn Flakes in 1895.  The seventh-day Adventists believed bland diets would counter ill-health - and minimise sexual arousal.

close up of rustic american sausage and eggs breakfast close up of rustic american sausage and eggs breakfast

By the 1920s, bacon sales in the United States were lagging - until a public relations supremo Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) persuade almost 5,000 doctors to sign a statement backing the importance of starting the day with a big breakfast. It secured headlines across the country, despite the lack of any scientifc evidence to support it.

The phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was coined in 1944 - by General Foods, makers of cereal Grape Nuts. During its campaign, radio advertisements announced that “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

A decade later, in 1954, nutritionist Adelle Davis coins the phrase: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

Full English breakfast in a pan with fried eggs, bacon, sausages, beans and toasts on white wooden table, overhead view. Flat lay. From above. Full English breakfast in a pan with fried eggs, bacon, sausages, beans and toasts on white wooden table, overhead view. Flat lay. From above.

In 1957, now author Fay Weldon led the advertising team which came up with the classic phrase “Go to work on an egg” for the UK’s Egg Marketing Board. The slogan was part of a series of television adverts starring the comedian Tony Hancock in the 1960s.

2018: Public Health England’s campaign on heatlhy eating urges families to follow a simple rule of thumb in planning their meals, aiming for 400 calories from breakfast, and 600 each from lunch and dinner.

Current NHS advice: "Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. In fact, research shows that people who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight." 

Gallery: The best breakfasts for every fitness goal (Men's Health UK)

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