Chow Line: Why it’s important to eat breakfast

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I rarely eat breakfast. Can you explain why it’s so important? I’m always looking for ways to try to lose weight, and it seems like a good idea to not eat when I’m not hungry, which is typically in the morning.

On the surface, your habits make some sense. Nutritionists regularly encourage people to become more attuned to their inner hunger and appetite signals, and not eating (or stopping eating) when your hunger is satisfied is doing just that.

But this raises the question: Why aren’t you hungry in the morning? The whole reason the meal is called “breakfast” is because by eating it, you’re breaking the fast you’ve experienced overnight. Do you typically eat a heavy dinner or have a high-calorie snack at night? Cutting back later in the day might be more effective at helping you lose those extra pounds than skipping breakfast.

A new study sheds some light on why this might be. The British study, recently presented at the Neuroscience 2012 conference, focused on the differences in people’s brain activity when they skip breakfast and how that affects their calorie intake later in the day.

For the study, researchers asked participants to come in for two MRIs (magnetic resonance images, or brain scans) before they had anything to eat that day. On one of their visits, they were given breakfast before the MRI; on the other visit, they weren’t. All were given lunch after the tests.

The researchers found that when the fasting participants were shown pictures of high-calorie foods during the MRIs, the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain was activated more strongly than when they had eaten breakfast. The breakfast-skippers also ate more at lunch. 

This finding supports other research that shows that eating breakfast can reduce overall food intake for the rest of the day.

In fact, an expert panel at the Institute of Food Technologists conference earlier this year reported that studies of young people show that those who don’t eat breakfast consume 40 percent more sweets, 55 percent more soft drinks, 45 percent fewer vegetables and 30 percent less fruit than those who do.

Breakfasts higher in protein, including yogurt, an egg (including egg in waffles or French toast) or even hummus, for example, seem to have a stronger effect.

So, see if you can change your morning routine to incorporate a breakfast that includes some protein. It just might make a difference in helping you lose those extra pounds.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Kennel, nutrition program specialist for Ohio State University Extension and director of the Dietetic Internship Program in the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

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Julie Kennel
OSU Extension, human nutrition