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Advice to “Eat Breakfast” Supported by New Brain Imaging Study

Breakfast from the pavilion cafe at Victoria Park.

Common dieting advice suggests eating breakfast because it can jump start your metabolism and helps prevent you from eating more later in the day. Researchers in London may have finally figured out why — skipping a morning meal can fool your brain into thinking the body actually wants high-calorie foods, which, if eaten too often, can inhibit weight loss.

So What Is This Study Exactly?

A team from Imperial College London presented these findings at the Endocrine Society’s 91st annual meeting held in Washington D.C. in July. Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which measure blood flow in the brain, to see how eating impacted the brain’s reward center.

The study involved 20 healthy people who took an fMRI scan on a morning when they skipped breakfast and on a morning when they ate breakfast. During each test they were shown photos of high-calorie foods like pizza and cake, and low-calorie foods like salad and fish. On the morning they had breakfast, the participant’s reward center lit up more in response to the high-calorie foods. On the morning when they had breakfast, the reward center didn’t show any difference between high- and low-calorie foods.

Participants were also asked to rate how appealing they found each food. On non-breakfast mornings, the high-calorie foods looked good, but the morning they ate participants didn’t indicate a preference for the unhealthy foods.

β€œOur results support the advice for eating a healthy breakfast as part of the dietary prevention and treatment of obesity,” said lead author Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD. β€œWhen people skip meals, especially breakfast, changes in brain activity in response to food may hinder weight loss and even promote weight gain.”

What Else Do We Know About Breakfast?

This study isn’t the first one to highlight the importance of breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle. Reports from the National Weight Control Registry, a study tracking more than 5,000 individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss, indicate 78 percent of the members eat breakfast everyday. For adults, breakfast can help you eat more vitamins and minerals, eat less fat and cholesterol, and be more productive throughout the morning.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the best breakfasts are those that include one or two options from categories of whole grains, low-fat proteins, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables. Check out these Eat. Drink. Better. posts on spicing up oatmeal, making your own crockpot granola, and breakfast pastry recipes to help get some ideas for your next healthy breakfast.

Image credit: Avid Hills at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

3 comments
  1. Helen Vaikona

    Hi. This is great advice. Most mornings I do miss out on breakfast. Thank you for the great information. Keep up the good work. Take care. GOD bless always. Lots of love from Helen.

  2. Steve

    Hi, I’m just one of those guys who won’t leave the house without breakfast: even if I’m running late, then I just eat it on the bus.
    Before I went to high school, we used to eat breakfast at the table together: it was always like that, gueess it has to become a consistent habit.

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