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Study Finds Nothing Special About Breakfast


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day or maybe not. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds eating breakfast or skipping it might not make much difference. Popular theory holds that people who don't eat breakfast may binge later on lunch and dinner, leading to weight gain or other health problems. Other people argue that skipping breakfast will help you lose weight by eating less. Turns out - both could be wrong. Here to debunk breakfast is the lead author of that study, Emily Dhurandhar. She joins us from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Thank you for being with us.

DR. EMILY DHURANDHAR: Thank you for having me, Linda. It's a pleasure to be here.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, I wonder if you could explain to us what you concluded. Have you basically decided that breakfast is just another meal? It's not especially important?

DHURANDHAR: Well, when it comes to weight loss what we found is that whether you eat or skip breakfast, it doesn't make a difference.

WERTHEIMER: Any idea why?

DHURANDHAR: Well, we know to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you expend. So what our results suggest is that either eating or skipping breakfast didn't improve people's ability to eat less energy than they expend when they're trying to lost weight.

WERTHEIMER: There is research, I believe, that finds that people who eat breakfast have a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. What do you think about that?

DHURANDHAR: Yeah. There are lots of association studies out there suggesting that eating breakfast is associated with better health, but because breakfast is associated with better cardiovascular health, for example, doesn't necessarily mean that breakfast causes better cardiovascular outcomes. It may mean that eating breakfast is associated with something else, such as better exercise habits or better eating habits in general.

WERTHEIMER: So where do you think it comes from - the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

DHURANDHAR: No one's really studied it very carefully. But one thing that is pretty clear is that breakfast is really a cultural phenomenon. A lot of documentation about breakfast actually started back in the 1700s and 1800s. Even then they touted breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

WERTHEIMER: So if weight is what you're thinking about, eating breakfast or not eating breakfast is not going to make a difference there. What does that guide people to do, do you think? What are you going to do? Are you going to skip breakfast?

DHURANDHAR: Well, breakfast is very important to my sanity in the morning. I can't make it through without it. So I'll probably continue to eat breakfast. And I would say that we can conclude from our study that a very general recommendation to either eat breakfast or not isn't very helpful for weight loss. But we still need to do more studies to see if particular type of breakfast food might be helpful.

WERTHEIMER: Emily Dhurandhar - she is the lead author of a new study on breakfast and weight loss in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Dr. Dhurandhar, thank you very much.

DHURANDHAR: Thank you, Linda. It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.