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Grandmothers, marketers and researchers alike have long touted breakfast as a must-have meal, praising its ability to rev up metabolism, stave off hunger, help calorie watchers keep their weight in check and improve concentration and cognitive function.

But for all the glowing endorsements, there have also been warnings against over-hyping the power of breakfast.

That concern was raised again this summer when a study comparing groups of overweight and obese adults dieters found that eating or skipping breakfast made no difference in how much weight was lost over a 16-week period.

"Our simple question was (when it comes to weight loss), does it help to eat breakfast? And the answer seems to be probably not," says David Allison, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Nutrition Obesity Research Center and senior investigator of the study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,

Allison emphasizes that the study sheds no light on the foods eaten at breakfast, about weight gain among underweight or normal-weight people or how breakfast impacts children. "It's not a study of any outcome other than weight loss," he says.

Before taking those findings as an excuse to down a Grand Slam Breakfast while also trying to shed pounds, other diet and nutrition experts say that eating a nutritionally sound breakfast is still a good rule of thumb when it comes to weight loss and good nutrition in general.

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The UAB study "didn't look at what or how much the breakfast eaters were eating," says nutrition consultant Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago. It also "didn't look at benefits beyond weight such as focus, energy levels or appetite and hunger. There are many studies that show an association with healthy weight and breakfast," Blatner says.

Among those is research conducted by epidemiologist Mark Pereira of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. In a 2008 longitudinal study in which researchers were able to account for varying levels of physical activity and dietary intake among teens, those who gained the least amount of weight over five years reported eating breakfast every day.

And in a 2013 study of adults, Pereira and colleagues found regular breakfast consumption was "very consistent" not only with lowering the rate of obesity, but reducing the risk of metabolic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Based on some preliminary studies, epidemiologic studies, and some small experimental studies, "it looks like there really may be something to the breakfast message," Pereira says. "I'm not going to say that the message has been validated and it is the most important meal of the day because we need more research on that. But I think it has a lot of potential."

"There are plenty of reasons to eat breakfast, not the least of which is that if you skip breakfast, people tend not to make up the nutrients lost from the breakfast meal," says registered dietitian Keith Ayoob, an associate clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "I absolutely encourage dieters and all my patients to eat a healthy, nutrient-rich breakfast. Not just anything," he says.

Given that too many kids and teens have poor diets (average scores of diet quality for kids ages 2 to 17 fall short of federal recommendations), breakfast "is an opportunity to get in important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help with focus, energy and brainpower at school," Blatner says. "The only catch is it can't be quick junk out of the freezer or toaster."

Her recipe for protein- and veggie-rich Muffin Tin Omelets is one example of breakfast eating made quick, easy and nutritious.

Ayoob notes that in tracking adults who have successfully lost weight and kept it off over an extensive period of time, the National Weight Control Registry finds that about 90% of those success stories eat breakfast daily. "Breakfast remains a hugely important meal, whether you are trying to lose weight or not," he says.

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