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More for breakfast linked to eating less overall



a breakfast plate of fried eggs and toast garnished with orange slices

You already know that breakfast is important: those who eat breakfast tend to eat more regularly and snack more sensibly, while also having better cholesterol scores and better insulin response than those who skip breakfast. Those who had eggs for breakfast reported feeling more satisfied after meals, while those who ate a high-fiber breakfast tended to eat less at lunch.

It's not just what you eat at breakfast that seems to matter, however: just last year I shared with you a very interesting study that showed that women who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast lost more weight than women who ate half their calories at the evening meal. A group of researchers in Japan noted that studies like those I just mentioned tend to be under at least moderately-controlled conditions, with people receiving explicit instructions on what to eat or even receiving their meals in labs. What about people just leading their regular lives (Appetite 2015;92:66-73)? If they ate more breakfast, did they eat less at later meals? Laboratory conditions can sometimes be very different than what researchers call "free-living" conditions and yield very different results.

The researchers recruited 116 women and 119 men, evenly distributed across decades of age, from four very different areas of Japan (urban, inland rural, coastal rural, and urban island). The participants kept detailed food diaries for 3 weekdays and 1 weekend day for each of the four seasons for just over a year, for a total of 16 days for each person. What they ate during each meal period (breakfast, lunch/afternoon snack, and dinner/evening snack) was analyzed for total calories as well as grams of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), and converted to percentages of the individual's intake for that day, then averaged over the year.

Overall, the researchers noted that the women in their sample tended to eat their largest meal in the afternoon, while men tended to eat their largest meal in the evening. That said, those who ate a larger portion of their total daily caloric intake in the morning did tend to eat a smaller percentage of their daily calories later in the day - and their total number of calories tended to be lower, on average.

More specifically, those who ate more carbohydrates at their morning meal tended to eat fewer calories later in the day, but that did not mean they ate fewer calories in total. On the other hand, a larger percentage of calories from fat in the morning meal meant both lower caloric intake in later meals as well as eating fewer calories overall.

What this means for you

Unlike the women in the study I mentioned above, who ate fully half of their daily calories at breakfast, the participants in this study were distributing their calories more or less evenly throughout the day: the distribution of calories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for men, was 22.6%, 33.8%, and 43.6%, respectively, while for women the percentages were 24.7%, 36.5%, and 38.8%. Similar numbers are likely to apply in Western countries. The findings from this study underscore the importance of a good breakfast in managing your weight (or losing weight, if that's your goal). Here are my recommendations for a good breakfast.

First posted: August 5, 2015