Breakfast - to eat or not to eat?
There are studies suggesting that there is no correlation between people’s body weight, health, well-being and whether they have breakfast or not.
At the same time, other studies suggest that there may be a link between skipping breakfast and a higher risk of metabolic diseases (e.g., obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, etc.).
In this article, we will try to shed some light on how breakfast affects our bodies.
In particular, is skipping breakfast harmful? Is it better to eat breakfast or not?
Breakfast – the most important meal of the day
Or maybe not?
The origin of the expression “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” can be traced back to the “Eat a Good Breakfast – Do a Better Job” marketing campaign launched by General Foods in 1944, during which brochures promoting the importance of breakfast were distributed in grocery stores and radio advertisements claimed, “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.
Breakfast was again named the most important meal of the day in the 1960s when the American nutritionist Adelle Davis claimed that to stay fit and avoid obesity, people must “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.
A study of 30,000 adults in 2021 found that 15% of adults skip breakfast regularly.
At the same time, many still consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day, as it provides the body with vital nutrients that other meals do not or do not provide in sufficient quantities (calcium in milk, fibre in breakfast cereals, vitamins and minerals, vitamin C in fruit, etc.).
Many also believe that eating breakfast can contribute to weight loss.
But is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
As with most nutrition questions, the answer is complicated. Some studies suggest that skipping breakfast is not harmful, but other studies suggest the opposite:
- On the one hand, eating regular meals and snacks (four to five meals a day) is more likely to provide our bodies with the energy and nutrients they need to function optimally.
- On the other hand, if we get everything we need during the day, breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day and may be skipped.
Here’s what the science says on this.
Evidence supporting the benefits of eating breakfast
It should be mentioned here that most of the studies on the benefits of eating breakfast are observational. That is – they indicate associations but cannot prove causality.
A 2021 systematic review of 14 observational studies found that those who eat breakfast seven times a week have a lower risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- High blood pressure.
- Abdominal obesity.
- Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) levels.
This analysis of 14 studies finds that those who eat breakfast are less likely to develop the cardiovascular and metabolic diseases mentioned above, but it does not prove that skipping breakfast causes these diseases.
The most common nutrients missing in those who skipped breakfast were:
- Vitamin A.
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3.
- Vitamin C.
- Vitamin D.
Those who skipped breakfast also had higher blood glucose spikes after eating. Therefore, the study authors concluded that eating breakfast is essential for our internal clock to work properly.
Does skipping breakfast cause weight gain?
Although many people report feeling fuller throughout the day by eating breakfast, research shows that both breakfast skippers and breakfast eaters consume almost the same number of calories during the day.
A 4-month randomised controlled trial tested the effectiveness of eating or skipping breakfast on weight loss in 309 overweight or obese adults.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that eating or skipping breakfast had no significant effect on weight loss.
A review of 13 randomised controlled trials published in 2019 found that eating breakfast may not be a good weight loss strategy as eating breakfast may increase calorie intake and, therefore, have the opposite effect.
However, it is noteworthy that this review had significant limitations, such as not including the types of foods consumed by participants (it makes a big difference whether one eats protein– and fibre-rich or fast carbohydrate-rich foods for breakfast), and the studies were relatively short.
In contrast, a study published in 2020 found that skipping breakfast can reduce total daily calorie intake by 252 calories, whereas skipping any meal reduces overall nutritional quality.
In other words, at present, there is no conclusive evidence linking eating or not eating breakfast to weight gain or weight loss.
Are people who eat breakfast healthier?
According to a 2018 study, those who eat breakfast often:
- Pay more attention to what they eat;
- Exercise more regularly.
- Manage stress better.
In contrast, those who skip breakfast:
- Tend to engage in unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Their diets also tend to be higher in fat, cholesterol and calories.
These results suggest that eating breakfast is significantly associated with a healthy lifestyle and that our lifestyle and dietary habits influence our health much more than eating or skipping breakfast.
8 reasons why you should eat breakfast
Breakfast is an important meal because it allows us to fuel our bodies with energy and nutrients. However, according to recent research, it may not be the most important meal of the day.
There are several reasons why we should eat breakfast every day:
- Breakfast provides us with energy after a night of “fasting” – it replenishes glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, giving us the energy, we need for the physical and mental activities to come.
- Breakfast provides us with essential nutrients that support cognitive function, making it easier to concentrate and perform tasks efficiently.
- Breakfast can boost metabolism – eating in the morning signals the body that it is time to wake up and become active. This helps to activate metabolic processes, including energy production, to prepare for the day’s activities. The body also uses energy to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in the food eaten for breakfast. This is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) or diet-induced thermogenesis.
- A well-balanced breakfast can help control appetite throughout the day. If you skip breakfast, you are more likely to overeat or choose something less healthy (high in calories but low in nutrients) at your next meal.
- A balanced breakfast can help maintain a healthy digestive system. Fibre-rich foods, such as whole-grain products and fruits, can promote regular bowel movements.
- A balanced breakfast can help stabilise blood sugar levels, preventing energy dips and mood swings later in the day.
- A healthy breakfast can improve heart health as it provides the body with important nutrients that support cardiovascular function and help regulate cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- For hard physical workers and those who train in the mornings, breakfast provides the fuel needed to improve performance and recover more efficiently.
It is important to note that the positive effects of breakfast mentioned above only apply to a balanced breakfast – a combination of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, etc., that meet the body’s needs.
Although breakfast can offer many benefits, listen to your body and eat when you feel hungry.
If you wake up hungry in the morning, make sure you eat breakfast, but if you skip it sometimes, ensure you get the optimal amount of nutrients at other meals.
If you usually don’t feel hungry in the morning, find a meal pattern that meets your body’s needs. After all, a balanced diet and a regular eating routine are key to maintaining good health and well-being, as well as to losing and/or maintaining weight.
When should you have breakfast?
Breakfast is the first meal that breaks the nightly “fast”, so in theory, it can be eaten at any time of the day.
In other words, if your first meal is at 11.00, it is technically breakfast. Your body’s response to what time you eat breakfast can vary greatly depending on your sleep patterns, hunger signals, and energy needs at the beginning of the day.
I would recommend putting something in your stomach within two hours of getting up.
What to eat for breakfast?
If you eat breakfast – start your day with a nutritious meal such as:
- Wholegrain products (oatmeal, wholemeal toast, etc.).
- Dairy products (Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, lean cheese, etc.).
- Chia seeds (e.g., swollen in milk, kefir or plain yoghurt, etc.).
So, eat breakfast or not?
It depends on your chronotype, lifestyle and energy needs in the first half of the day.
Some people wake up hungry, others don’t (and find eating in the morning unpleasant).
Some may skip breakfast because they are too busy, in a hurry and do not consider breakfast important for their health – they are likely to have a different experience of skipping breakfast than those who do not wake up hungry.
Skipping breakfast is part of several fasting or intermittent fasting patterns, such as 16/8. And many consider it to be an effective way of losing weight.
Skipping breakfast increases the likelihood of overeating later – for example, a 400-calorie breakfast skipped in the morning can easily turn into a 2000-calorie intake in the evening.
The most important question is not “To eat breakfast or not to eat breakfast?” but “What, when and how much to eat?”.
Eat breakfast, eat a balanced, exercise and – be healthy!
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