Breakfast, long held up as the most important meal in a day, might not be deserving of much of the nutritional significance accorded it, recent studies suggest.

Research studies looking at the most common assertions made for the benefits provided by eating breakfast -- that it can boost metabolism and can help the chances for weight loss -- suggest neither may be the case, researchers say.

In one study at Britain's University of Bath, 33 men and women of healthy weight either ate a 700-calorie breakfast or skipped it altogether for six weeks while researchers monitored metabolic indicators such as blood sugar, cholesterol and resting metabolic rate.

The researchers found the metabolic profiles of the groups remained close, with only minor differences in blood sugar levels and calories burned in the course of a normal day.

"I almost never have breakfast," study author James Betts says. "That was part of my motivation for conducting this research, as everybody was always telling me off and saying I should know better."

In a second study examining morning eating habits and weight loss, 300 volunteers who expressed a desire to lose some weight were randomly put in groups that ate breakfast every day, skipped it every day, or just kept on with the usual morning habits.

People who normally skipped or ate breakfast were randomly assigned to the test groups, so some were changing habits while others were not, the researchers noted.

After 16 weeks the participants were weighed. Very little weight loss was recorded -- something like a pound or two per person -- but more to the point of the study it was found that the weight loss in each group was unaffected whether they were regularly eating breakfast or regularly skipping it, the researchers reported.

"What we found was absolutely no difference in the change of weight among the three groups, severely calling into question the idea -- at least among ordinary adults -- that it's important to eat a good breakfast every day for the purposes of weight control," study author David Allison of the University of Alabama and Birmingham said [subscription required].

What people are most likely to take away from the studies, the researchers say, is that breakfast, particularly as a part of attempted weight loss, is just another meal.

The bottom line? If you enjoy eating breakfast, go on enjoying it. And if you're a breakfast skipper, don't worry yourself over it.

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