Eating a Big Breakfast and Small Dinner Could Stop You From Becoming Obese, Scientists Say

The saying that one should eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper could hold some truth according to scientists, who say this approach to dining could stop people from becoming obese.

In a study published in the The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers at the University of Lubeck, Germany, found that the body appears to be better at processing food in the morning, regardless of the calories consumed.

The team set out to investigate whether eating at different times of day affects what is known as diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), or the way the body uses up energy when processing food. It is thought that low levels of DIT could mean a person is more vulnerable to becoming obese.

In a study involving 16 men, researchers found DIT was 2.5 times higher when they ate in the morning—regardless of how many calories they consumed. They also found that blood sugar and insulin levels spiked less after they ate in the morning, compared with dinnertime. In addition, participants were more likely to feel hungry after having a low-calorie breakfast, and craved sweet things in particular.

This lead the team to conclude that DIT is "clearly" higher in the morning than in the evening, regardless of how many calories are consumed. To prevent obesity and spikes in blood sugar levels, people should eat large portions of food at breakfast rather than at dinnertime, the team said.

The participants, who were aged 23 on average, had a normal body mass index. They stayed at a laboratory for a total of three days, each separated by a minimum of two weeks, where they ate specially prepared breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

At the lab, the researchers carried out tests on the men, which included taking samples of their blood before and after they ate breakfast and dinner. On one day they ate a low-calorie breakfast and a high-calorie dinner, and did the reverse on a second day in meals which contained the equivalent amounts of energy and nutrients. Lunch was always the same.

The authors wrote: "Our data show that the time of day of food intake makes a difference in humans' energy expenditure and metabolic responses to meals."

The team noted that obese people, who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, often try to lose or maintain their weight by eating a small breakfast or not at all. But it's unclear whether this approach is successful, as people may simply end up eating more later in the day, they said.

"Our results show that a meal eaten for breakfast, regardless of the amount of calories it contains, creates twice as high diet-induced thermogenesis as the same meal consumed for dinner," co-author Juliane Richter said in a statement:

"This finding is significant for all people as it underlines the value of eating enough at breakfast.

"We recommend that patients with obesity as well as healthy people eat a large breakfast rather than a large dinner to reduce body weight and prevent metabolic diseases."

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A stock image shows people eating breakfast. Getty