Brain scans show that people who skip breakfast find fatty foods more appealing later on in the day.
Scientists at Imperial College London took brain scans of 21 people to see if skipping breakfast would change the way their brains responded to images of high calorie food.
For the first part of the experiment, all 21 volunteers (all with healthy BMIs) were fed a large 730 calorie breakfast. One hour and 30 minutes later, they were positioned in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and shown alternating images of high calorie and low calorie foods.
For the second part of the experiment, which took place on a different day, the same volunteers were given no breakfast before lying down in the MRI scanner to look at the images of high and low calorie foods.
The scientists found that skipping breakfast created a 'bias' in the brain, causing the individual to favour high calorie foods over healthier options.
The changes in the brain were observed in the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain thought to be involved in 'food appeal'. This part seemed to become more active when volunteers looked at images of high calorie foods after skipping breakfast.
Dr Tony Goldstone, from Imperial College London, said: "Through both the participants' MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high calorie foods and the amount people ate."
Experts think some people find it difficult to lose weight because the act of dieting itself increases the appeal of fatty foods.
The results of this study were presented at the Neuroscience 2012 conference and were described by the University of Glasgow's senior lecturer Dr Catherine Hankey as an 'interesting insight' into the effects skipping breakfast has on the brain.
Nutritionists know that eating a healthy breakfast takes the edge off hunger and keeps blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, reducing cravings and preventing the need to binge on fatty foods.
To find out more about eating a healthy breakfast, please visit our Balanced Diet page.
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