The Sunday Magazine

News flash: Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day!

In this episode of our recurring series, "Think Again", Michael talks to Australian researcher Flavia Cicuttini, who upends everything you ever thought you knew about breakfast.
Researcher Flavia Cicuttini upends everything you ever thought you knew about breakfast and its supposed benefits. (Shutterstock / monticello)

If we eat a hearty breakfast, we'll lose weight. We'll eat less during the day. We'll have more time to metabolize our food and work off the calories. And we'll have more energy.

Even if you're not hungry in the morning, eat something! We have all heard this advice about the morning meal. Australian researcher Flavia Cicuttini decided to look into the science behind these pervasive theories.

She is a rheumatologist, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and a co-author of a study on the effect of breakfast on weight loss and energy intake.

She had many patients with osteoarthritis in their knees who were struggling to lose weight and consulted a dietician.

"Almost universally, people would come back having been advised to eat breakfast," she said, "and that was fine for some people, but I was often struck by the idea that when I got chatting with patients, they'd be telling me they were virtually force feeding themselves breakfast because somehow, magically, it's supposed to be good and everybody knows it's good for you."

Flavia Cicuttini is a professor of clinical epidemiology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. (Submitted by Flavia Cicuttini)

The study she helped write reviewed 13 randomized clinical trials.

"There was no evidence that if you ate breakfast you would eat less later in the day," said Cicuttini, "and there wasn't good evidence that the calories eaten in the morning were better for you than later in the day."

Those who love breakfast or who feel they cannot start the day without it should have a morning meal, she says.

"We have tended to treat everybody in the same way. There's been very much a 'one size fits all,'" she said. "The evidence is that people who skipped breakfast didn't overeat later in the day, and I think the more concerning thing is to be asking people to eat breakfast when they aren't hungry."

Cicuttini says there are two exceptions to these findings: people on diabetic medications, who need to eat more often over the course of a day; and children, who need more calories than adults and can't leave school to get themselves some food.

The takeaway, according to Cicuttini? If you want breakfast, have it! If you skip it — no measurable harm done.

Click "listen" above to hear the interview.