In the search for a perfect weight-loss routine, breakfast has been batted back and forth across the table. Some of the most long-standing pieces of advice:
- have protein for breakfast
- eat a large breakfast
- skip breakfast entirely
- load up on fiber during breakfast
- have a liquid breakfast of coffee or smoothies
But what does the science actually tell us?
Several studies have found a link between skipping breakfast and poor eating habits throughout the day. Studies show that breakfast-skippers eat 40-55% more unhealthy foods (including soda and sweets) and eat 30% less fruit and 45% fewer vegetables when compared to people who eat breakfast.
Protein does seem to be to be the best breakfast in order to avoid overeating later on during the day. Teens who had high-protein breakfasts consumed 200 calories less in the evening. And a 2008 study on teens found that eating breakfast set up healthy habits not only for the rest of the day but over the course of several years. Five years later, breakfast-eaters had gained less weight and had lower BMIs than those who skipped breakfast.
Another study looked at the effect of fiber in breakfast and concluded that eating cereal or bread for breakfast was associated with a lower BMI compared to eating eggs and meat. (Keep in mind that in this study, a breakfast consisting of meat or eggs may not have been a healthy high-protein meal so this finding doesn’t contradict the other studies on protein.)
So breakfast is definitely important, and high-protein and high-fiber breakfasts seem to work best. But what about the size of your meals? Since calories from breakfast can reduce excess calories eaten later, is a bigger breakfast better?
Prior studies had concluded that, yes, eating a large breakfast can reduce calorie intake throughout the day. But a more recent study found that this finding was misleading. The prior study looked at the ratio of breakfast to total calories, concluding that bigger breakfasts lead to fewer daily calories consumed. But the newer study determined that the ratio was actually due to people eating fewer calories later in the day, rather than the entire total being lower.
So eating a big breakfast may not help, since many of the participants tended to eat the same at lunch and dinner, regardless of the amount they ate in the morning.
What can help though is eating a big lunch after you’ve already had a high-protein breakfast. While in America dinner tends to be the main big meal, in many European and Asian countries, lunch is the biggest meal. A study on patients in Spain found that people who ate 40% of their daily calories at a lunchtime meal before 3 p.m. lost the most weight, lost weight more quickly, and had fewer diabetes risk factors. (Also of note, many of the less healthy late-lunch eaters tended to skip breakfast!)
Takeaway: eat a modest-sized breakfast that’s high in protein and fiber, and follow it up with a big lunch and a small dinner.
So what about dessert?
Believe it or not, an interesting new study found that people who ate dessert with breakfast (in the form of chocolate) lost more weight, were more satisfied, and had fewer cravings later in the day! This is because denying yourself the sweets you want can make cravings intensify and cause you cheat more. But indulging just a bit in the morning, when your metabolism is highest, can help you avoid extra calories later.
And if you are trying to combine healthy eating with exercise in order to lose weight, try working out before breakfast. A study from just last week found that people exercising after fasting (not eating all night during sleep) lost 20% more fat compared to those who worked out after eating breakfast.