Plenty of research has found that eating breakfast is important for weight maintenance, metabolism and overall good health. Now, the evidence gets even stronger: a small new randomized controlled trial finds that regularly eating a substantial morning meal directly affects how fat cells function in the body by changing the activity of genes involved in fat metabolism and insulin resistance. The findings suggest that eating breakfast every morning may help lower people's risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the study authors say-and that even if a morning meal increases a person's total calorie consumption, those calories may be offset by other energy-burning benefits.
In the study, published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers asked 49 people ages 21 to 60 to either eat breakfast or fast until mid-day, every day for six weeks. Those in the breakfast group were asked to eat at least 700 calories by 11 a.m., and at least half of those calories within two hours of waking. They could choose the foods they wanted, but most people opted for typical breakfast foods like cereals, toast and juice.
Before and after the study, the researchers measured everyone's metabolism, body composition and cardiovascular and metabolic health. They also took biopsies of their fat cells to measure the activity of 44 different genes and proteins related to metabolism and other physiological processes, as well as the cells' ability to take up sugar, which is the body's response to changing insulin levels.
They found that in people who had normal weights, eating breakfast decreased the activity of genes involved in fat burning. In other words, there was some evidence that skipping breakfast actually increased fat burning, says lead author Javier Gonzalez, associate professor in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Bath in the UK, in an email. But total energy balance-the most important aspect for weight loss or weight maintenance-did not drastically differ between groups. However, that's not what they found in people with obesity. The more body fat a person had, the less their fat cells responded to insulin.