Study suggests larger breakfasts could aid weight loss

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Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Researchers found that eating a substantial breakfast was linked to improved calorie control throughout the day. A team from Aberdeen University discovered that people burned the same number of calories through the day no matter when they consumed their largest meal. However, those that had a big breakfast were less likely to feel hungry later in the day. 

During the trial period, researchers regulated people’s meals, providing larger breakfasts and smaller lunches and dinners for a month followed by a period of smaller breakfasts and a more substantial dinner. The aim was to measure and monitor the impact of varying calorie intake at different times of the day as part of a study into ‘chrono-nutrition.’

This is a concept that revolves around the reaction of the body to eating at different times. The team wanted to investigate the effects of eating large meals on the rhythms that are dictated by the body clock and determine whether eating at different times has any relationship with weight gain or loss. A group of 30 volunteers followed a strict eating plan for around two months. During the trial, all the participants were provided with prepared meals with a total daily calorie intake of around 1,700. For the first month, the group consumed a sizeable breakfast, which contained around 50% of the daily calorie count, followed by a more modest lunch and dinner. During the second month, the participants consumed a smaller breakfast and a large dinner. Researchers monitored metabolism throughout.

The team found that there was no difference in total calorie burn, resting metabolic rate or weight loss. The one major difference was the level of hunger. People who ate a large breakfast and a smaller lunch and dinner were less likely to feel hungry later in the day than those who had a small breakfast followed by a larger lunch and dinner.
Professor Alexandra Johnstone explained that the large breakfast contributed to better appetite control, which was important because we live in a society where the amount of food we consume is not regulated or limited. Prof Johnstone added that it was not clear why eating a big meal at the start of the day reduced hunger levels but indicated that there may be a clue in the way the brain works in terms of its “reward systems.”

The findings of the study, which have been published in Cell Metabolism, contravene the eating habits of most people. Research suggests that most have their main meal at the end of the day.  The team is now conducting further research, which will follow shift workers and focus on eating in the early hours. The researchers will also investigate if there is an argument for encouraging people to plan their meals in accordance with their chronotype. This relates to whether they are naturally more alert and active during the morning or evening. 

The idea of adjusting eating habits to chronotype is supported by dietitian Dr Duane Mellor, from Aston University, who suggested that eating a big breakfast could help those who tend to snack or get hungry in the morning and opting for a large dinner could help those prone to grazing in the evenings. Breakfast options included during the trial period included protein-rich foods, such as sausages, eggs, mushrooms, yoghurts and fruit smoothies.