For the study, researchers from the University of Bath in the U.K. recruited 49 lean and obese people aged 21 to 60 to either eat breakfast or fast until mid-day, every day for six weeks. Those assigned to eat breakfast consumed 350 calories within two hours of walking and at least 700 calories by 11 a.m. every day; whereas the fasting group did not consume energy until mid-day.
Before and after the study, the researchers measured the participants’ metabolism, body composition, and cardiovascular health. They also measured the participants’ fat cells for the activity of 44 genes and key proteins, as well as the cells’ ability to use glucose in response to insulin.
The researchers found that for lean participants, eating breakfast decreased the activity of certain genes involved in burning fat and boosting metabolism. This suggested that skipping breakfast may increase fat burning in lean people. However, they also found that even if a morning meal increased their total calorie intake, those calories were evened out by other energy-burning benefits.
"Breakfast consumption increased total calorie intake in lean people, but this was offset by breakfast also stimulating physical activity energy expenditure in lean people," explained Javier Gonzales, the lead author of the study.
In addition, they found that eating breakfast reduced the activity of genes involved in insulin resistance and increased the amount of sugar fat cells took up. These could help prevent diabetes and other chronic health problems over time. Gonzales explained that this finding is in line with their previous observations that eating breakfast is linked to better glucose control in fat cells.
In the obese participants, the researchers found that the more fat a person had, the less responsive their fat cells were to insulin. They found that at least one gene associated with fat burning was also more active among the obese participants who ate breakfast, compared to those who skipped it. Skipping breakfast increased the activity of their genes associated with inflammation. From this, the researchers concluded that the guidelines for breakfast consumption should be determined by the consumer's weight, although more research is needed to confirm this.
One limitation of the study was the type of breakfast the participants consumed: It was high in carbohydrates. Because of this, the findings of the study could not be generalized to other types of breakfast, such as those high in protein. Gonzales said that they are now investigating how different types of breakfast affect health and how breakfast influences other health behaviors, such as exercise. (Related: To breakfast or not to breakfast: That is the question for dieters.)
If you can’t handle skipping your morning meal, it’s best to choose your food wisely. Choose foods that contain loads of nutrients and can help you feel full, which can prevent you from overeating later in the day. Eating processed cereals or white bread will do more harm than good because you are getting a lot of refined carbs with very little fiber and protein to balance it out. Instead, focus on eating breakfast that is rich in healthy fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and various nutrients. Oatmeal, eggs, nuts, berries, flaxseeds, Greek yogurt, tea, cottage cheese, and bananas are some of the best breakfast foods you can try.