The common misconception that eating a big breakfast and a light dinner helps people burn more calories may be wrong.
A new study published Friday in the journal Cell Metabolism found that eating most of your calories in the morning does not help people lose weight any more than eating those calories in the evening.
The findings were based on a controlled experiment involving 30 adults in the UK who were obese or overweight. For four weeks, the participants followed one of two diets: about half of them consumed 45% of their daily calories at breakfast, followed by 35% at lunch and 20% at dinner. The other half ate 20% of their daily calories at breakfast, followed by 35% at lunch and 45% at dinner.
The groups then switched places, following the opposite diet for another four weeks.
Both groups consumed just over 1,700 calories per day. Big breakfasts consisted of things like cereal, toast, eggs, sausage, smoothies, and yogurt. Large dinners consisted of foods like beef and mushroom stroganoff with rice, pasta bolognese, or pork chops with potatoes and peas.
Researchers don’t often provide meals to study participants, so the study offers rare insight into how one factor – the timing of a person’s largest daily meal – affects metabolism and weight loss. weight.
Ultimately, the researchers added up the total weight lost by each group after four weeks of the hearty breakfast diet and the hearty dinner diet. The results came out the same: about 7 pounds.
That’s clear evidence that people didn’t burn more calories eating a big breakfast, according to Courtney Peterson, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who was not involved. looking.
The results show that “there is no magic fat-burning effect from the timing of your meals,” Peterson said.
However, study participants reported feeling less hungry throughout the day when they ate most of their calories at breakfast. So it’s possible that large breakfasts may help with weight loss over longer periods of time by decreasing appetite, Peterson said.
“There are two ways to lose weight: either you burn more calories or you eat less,” she said. “In the real world, if people are less hungry, they eat less, which usually results in weight loss.”
Alexandra Johnstone, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said a big breakfast could also “help people control their appetite to stick to a calorie diet”. .
Morning meals could still have benefits
Unlike the UK study, other research has suggested that people who eat a large breakfast may see their body mass index drop.
Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University, said the new study may have seen a greater weight loss effect if researchers had given subjects more high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
“Certain foods, if you have a lot or just a little bit of them, can stimulate hunger more than other types of foods,” she said.
But aside from weight loss, there may be other good reasons to eat a hearty breakfast. Johnstone said people are most sensitive to insulin in the morning, so an early meal could help regulate blood sugar. On the other hand, eating too late at night — starting around 8 p.m., Peterson said — could raise blood sugar levels and cause people to store more energy as fat.
Johnstone’s study did not see any improvement in blood sugar from large breakfasts. But a study of overweight or obese women in Israel found improved blood sugar levels in those who ate a 700-calorie breakfast, followed by a 500-calorie lunch and a 200-calorie dinner.
The new research also has implications for intermittent fasting, an eating schedule in which food intake is restricted to a specific window — typically eight hours during the day.
“What this study suggests is that when people eat on a time-limited basis, it might be better to limit time in the evening and eat from morning to afternoon,” Johnstone said.
That’s likely because people who fast in the morning are hungrier in the afternoon and evening, so they consume more calories than those who start eating earlier, Peterson said.
Like the big breakfast strategy, the relationship between intermittent fasting and weight loss is complicated.
“About half of the studies find a weight loss effect and the other half don’t,” Peterson said. “To me, that suggests there’s probably an advantage there, but we need to go into even larger studies to show it.”
Belury said a person’s meal routine should take into account the times of day when they burn the most energy and their individual response to food.
“There are quite a few personal preferences in terms of eating habits in general,” she said. “Some people say, for whatever reason, they don’t like a big breakfast because they find that if they have a big breakfast, then they still have a big lunch.
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