We already know that a healthy breakfast is essential to any fitness routine. Apart from being a great start to the day, a balanced breakfast has several benefits: it enhances concentration, focus and energy, boosts your metabolism and stops you from feeling peckish and making unhealthy food choices at odd hours. A small randomized trial is now backing up what many of us have grown to believe about breakfasts. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that eating a substantial meal in the morning directly affects the working of the fat cells in the body by changing the activity of genes involved in fat metabolism and insulin resistance. Phew! Who knew our breakfast was capable of doing all that.

Different types of breakfast influence health

The researchers asked 49 people between the ages 21-60 to either eat breakfast or fast until mid-day every day for a period of six weeks. The “breakfast club was asked to eat at least 700 calories by 11 am and at least half of those calories within the first two hours of waking up. Though they could pick any foods they wanted, most candidates opted for typical breakfast foods such as cereal, toast, and juice.

The researchers measured everyone’s metabolism, body composition, and cardiovascular health, before and after the study. They also took biopsies of their fat cells to measure the activity of 44 different genes and proteins that were related to metabolism and other physiological processes. The ability of the cells to take up sugar was also studied to understand the body’s response to changing insulin levels.

It was found that the total energy balance (an important aspect of weight management) did not drastically differ between both the groups. Lead author Javier Gonzalez, associate professor in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Bath in the UK, in an email to Time said, “Breakfast consumption increased total calorie intake in lean people, but this was offset by breakfast also stimulating physical activity energy expenditure in lean people.” He went on to add further, “The new study is in line with our previous observations that breakfast consumption is associated with better glucose control in fat cells.”

USA's obese population has grown at an alarming rate
At least one gene associated with fat burning was always more active with the obese people in the group that ate breakfast, versus the fasting group

However, the results were not the same for the people with obesity. It was found that the higher the body fat percentage, lesser was the cell response to insulin. At least one gene associated with fat burning was always more active with the obese people in the group that ate breakfast, versus the fasting group. Fasting increased the activity associated with inflammation in the obese people. This leads Gonzalez to add, “The guidelines for breakfast consumption should perhaps differ depending on whether people are lean or obese. But more research is required before such recommendations can be made.”

Though the benefits of a high-protein meal for breakfast have shown proven weight loss in obese women, in this study the candidates mostly consumed high-calorie breakfasts with varying results. Gonzalez says, “We are now exploring how different types of breakfast influence health and how breakfast interacts with other health behaviors such as exercise.”

By understanding how fat responds to food at different given times of the day scientists may be able to target such mechanisms more precisely. Though this study does not give a direct link between breakfasts and weight loss, it does however, highlight the myriad benefits of consuming breakfast on people who are obese. “We may be able to uncover new ways to prevent the negative effects of obesity by with something as simple as eating breakfast on a daily basis.” Gonzalez concludes.

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