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Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

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Perhaps it's that oft-repeated dogma, "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," that makes even the breakfast-abhorrent splash some cold milk over a bowl of cereal or grab a bagel on the way out the door.

But new studies published this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are backing up the breakfast skippers. While it's long been thought (though scientifically ambiguous) that the first meal of the day revved up metabolism, staved off hunger, and helped with weight loss, that may no longer hold true.

In one study, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Nutrition Obesity Research Center and other institutions found that eating or skipping breakfast had no effect in how much weight was lost over a 16-week period.

The study recruited nearly 300 overweight or obese volunteers who were trying to lose weight. Participants were randomly assigned to skip breakfast, always eat breakfast, or continue with their current dietary habits. At the end of the experiment, none of the participants were found to have lost much weight (only a pound or so per person), with weight in all groups unaffected by whether or not they ate breakfast.

Another study conducted by the University of Bath focused on people who were already lean. After six weeks, researchers determined that the participants' cholesterol levels, resting metabolic rates, and blood sugar profiles were unchanged, despite eating or skipping breakfast.

Contrary to popular belief, skipping breakfast did not drive any of the volunteers to eat enormous lunches and dinners. The breakfast skippers actually ate less over the course of a day than the breakfast eaters, though they also burned fewer calories and reported feeling somewhat sluggish first thing in the morning.

Together, the new research suggests that breakfast caused people to neither fatten up or slim down. It "may be just another meal," said Emily Dhurandhar, the assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who led the study there.

So if you like it, eat it. If not, don't sweat it.

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