PhotoBreakfast: it’s been called the most important meal of the day. But can skipping it really lead to weight gain -- or is this just a myth invented by cereal companies to push product? According to scientific research, there’s more truth to the latter.

In a study, Columbia University researchers found the old “skip breakfast, get fat” idea to be unsubstantiated. Overweight participants who skipped breakfast every day over a four-week period actually ended up losing weight.

The researchers hypothesize that even though skipping breakfast can make you a little more likely to eat bigger meals later, your body will still be unable to make up for the lost calories in that missing meal.

Contradicts earlier research

The Columbia study -- published in the Journal of Nutritional Science -- contradicts earlier research from 2007, in which breakfast was found to contribute to weight gain in adult males.

The difference between the two studies, however, is that the 2007 research was an observational study. Observational studies, scientists note, produce findings that are more prone to misinterpretation. For example, the male participants in the study may also have had another trait that contributed to their weight gain, such as sedentary lifestyle.

By contrast, the Columbia study examined participants through randomized controlled trial, which enables scientists to control every part of the study.

Eat or skip? 

But while skipping breakfast might not lead a person down the path to weight gain, experts say it's still not a good idea to frequently skip meals. 

Routinely skipping breakfast can lead to a variety of problems, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

According to Dr. Leah Cahill of the Harvard School of Health, breakfast is a key player in helping the body maintain healthy levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol, hormones such as insulin, and normal blood pressure. 

"As we sleep all night we are fasting," said Cahill in, "So if we do not normally 'break fast' in the morning, it puts a strain on our bodies that over time can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and blood pressure problems."

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