Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. But is skipping that morning meal really bad for your health? New research suggests it might not be as bad as many of us think. In this feature, we take an in-depth look at breakfast and wonder if skipping it is really bad.
Breakfast literally means “break the fast”. This is the first meal of the day after an overnight period of inactivity. Breakfast won the title of most important meal of the day in the 1960s after American nutritionist Adelle Davis suggested that to stay fit and avoid obesity, one should “eat breakfast like a king, have lunch like a prince and dine like a beggar.” Although around 15% of people skip breakfast regularly, many still believe it’s the most important meal of the day. Breakfast provides the body with important nutrients to start the day feeling energized and nourished. Many also believe it can help with weight loss.
But is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
As with most things in nutrition, the answer is complex. While some research suggests that skipping breakfast is not dangerous, other research suggests otherwise. Eating regular meals and snacks, including breakfast, gives you more opportunities throughout the day to provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function optimally. However, as long as a person can absorb its nutrients through other meals, breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day.
Here’s what the science says.
Evidence that supports breakfast
Most of the claimed benefits of eating breakfast come primarily from observational studies, which cannot prove a causal relationship. For example, a systematic review of 14 observational studies from 2021 found that people who eat breakfast seven times a week are less likely to suffer from:
high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Again, this particular group of studies can only suggest that people who eat breakfast are more likely to have a reduced risk of the aforementioned cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. He can’t prove that breakfast is the cause.
However, an analysis of data from more than 30,000 Americans shows that people who skip breakfast may be missing out on important nutrients. The most common nutrients that people who skip breakfast are missing are:
vitamins B1, B2, B3
Additionally, a randomized controlled trial published in 2017 that included 18 participants with type 2 diabetes and 18 healthy participants found that skipping breakfast caused disturbances in circadian rhythms in both groups. Those who skipped breakfast also experienced greater spikes in blood sugar after eating. The study authors therefore suggested that eating breakfast is vital to keeping our internal clocks up.
Does skipping breakfast cause weight gain?
While many people report increased feelings of fullness after starting their day with breakfast, studies suggest that people who skip or eat breakfast end up with a nearly identical daily caloric intake. Another 4-month randomized controlled trial tested the effectiveness of a recommendation to eat or skip breakfast on weight loss in 309 overweight or obese adults trying to lose weight in a free-living environment. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that eating breakfast had no significant impact on weight loss compared to not eating breakfast.
According to a 2019 review of 13 randomized controlled trials published in The BMJ, adding breakfast may not be a good weight loss strategy. The researchers added that caution should be exercised when recommending breakfast for weight loss, as it can actually have the opposite effect. However, it is important to note that this study has its limitations. The types of food consumed were not included and the studies were not of long duration. Additionally, the researchers pointed out the need for additional studies to determine the long-term effects of skipping breakfast.
Interestingly, another study found that skipping breakfast can actually reduce total daily calorie intake by 252 calories. The researchers noted, however, that skipping a meal decreased the overall quality of the diet. Currently, there does not appear to be strong evidence linking breakfast intake to weight gain.
Are people who eat breakfast healthier?
According to a 2018 observational study, people who eat breakfast often generally pay more attention to their overall nutrient intake, engage in regular physical activity, and manage stress appropriately. On the other hand, those who skip breakfast tend to have more unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and drinking frequently. They also tend to have a diet higher in fat, cholesterol and calories than people who usually eat breakfast.
These results suggest that lifestyle habits may contribute to the overall health of people who eat breakfast, not the fact of having breakfast.
Should we have breakfast?
As breakfast gives us the opportunity to feed our body with nutrients, it is an important meal. However, according to recent studies, it may not be the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast and listening to your hunger signals is very important if you wake up hungry in the morning. However, if you’re busy and skip breakfast one day, there’s no need to feel guilty.
If you’re in the habit of skipping breakfast, it’s important to make sure you maximize your nutrient intake at other meals. Certain groups of people, such as fitness professionals or athletes who train early in the morning, may also feel better after eating breakfast.
What should you eat for breakfast?
If you love breakfast, start your day with nutritious foods.
Here are some healthy breakfast foods:
Find what works best for you
Recent nutritional research continues to show us that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What is important to achieving optimal health is adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some ways to improve your health:
engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week
engage in strength training activities for all major muscle groups two or more days a week
maintain a healthy weight
limit added sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods
eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods
listen to your body and your hunger signals
Drink a lot of water
avoiding tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption
get at least 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours (reliable source).
While research suggests that breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day, it is nonetheless important. It keeps you energized for the day and provides the essential nutrients your body needs. If you choose to skip breakfast, there’s no reason to feel guilty and there isn’t much evidence that it can negatively affect your health.
What matters is eating the way that works best for you, leading a healthy lifestyle and ensuring your nutritional needs are met at your other meals.
If you’re struggling to meet your nutritional needs, consider consulting a nutritionist who can help answer all your questions.
Associations between breakfast eating habits and health-promoting lifestyle, suboptimal health status in southern China: a population-based cross-sectional study
Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
CARDIOVASCULAR AND METABOLIC RISK | AUGUST 22, 2017
Breakfast influences on clock gene expression and postprandial blood glucose in healthy subjects and subjects with diabetes: a randomized controlled trial
Skipping breakfast is associated with nutritional deficiencies and poorer diet quality among adults in the United States
* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO EVENT shall the information provided be a substitute for medical advice.
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