UAB to study if breakfast choice helps or hinders fat burning

What you have for breakfast might help, or hurt, your body’s efforts to burn fat later in the day, say UAB researchers hoping to learn more.

You might want to think twice before grabbing a pastry or doughnut for breakfast. A University of Alabama at Birmingham professor says research in animals suggests that eating a high-carbohydrate breakfast might turn off the body’s ability to burn fat throughout the day.

breakfast-study_storyTo find out if a high-carbohydrate breakfast has the same effect in humans, Barbara Gower, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the School of Health Professions, has received a $160,000 grant from the Egg Nutrition Center to study whether the kind of food eaten at breakfast can affect metabolic health.

“Morning appears to be the time of the day when your body is geared up to burn fat,” said Gower.

Studies with mice conducted by sub-investigator Molly Bray, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health, showed that fat intake at the time of waking takes advantage of the body’s natural inclination to burn fat at this time, and allows the animal to respond to different types of food later in the day. 

Conversely, mice given a high-carbohydrate meal as the first meal of the day impaired the animals’ ability to burn fat later in the day; they also were fatter at the end of the study and their blood-lipid profile was worse. Gower said this study might translate to humans.

“Your first meal of the day appears to program your metabolism for the rest of the day,” said Gower. “If you eat a high-carbohydrate meal first thing in the morning, such as white bread or a doughnut, your body may shut off its fat-burning activity. That could lead to obesity and elevated triglycerides, which, in turn, could increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes.”

Gower wants to determine if eating a mixed macronutrient meal instead of a meal high in simple carbohydrates will make people healthier and lower their risk for diabetes or heart disease.

“The concept we’re examining is that you burn more fuel and burn it more efficiently if you eat the right fuel at the right time of the day,” said Gower. “Eating foods higher in fat and protein, such as eggs or meat in combination with other healthful foods low in refined carbohydrates, such as dairy products, whole-grain products, and whole fruit for breakfast, is what your metabolism is designed to burn.”

Gower is recruiting 30 adults, both men and women ages 55-75 for the study. Participants will be given all breakfast foods. They also will be given instructions for eating healthful, well-balanced lunches and dinners. If you are interested in participating in the clinical trial in the Birmingham area, contact 205-934-4386.