We’ve all heard since childhood that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Both our doctors and mothers wouldn’t let us forget it. Now that we are adults and can make our own dietary decisions, why not take a closer look at the science behind this culturally ingrained belief?
Official USDA nutrition guidelines state that regularly skipping breakfast can lead to weight gain. The same guidelines link eating breakfast with a decreased chance of obesity. Interestingly, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 25% of Americans skip breakfast.
Considering the shockingly high rates of obesity in the United States (two out of every three adults falls into the categories of obese or overweight according to NIDDK), can we therefore conclude that skipping breakfast is a culprit?
Several studies have been done that show breakfast-eaters to be healthier and leaner than their non-breakfast eating counterparts. However, one study pointed out that people who eat breakfast tend to practice other healthier dietary and lifestyle habits, such as increased exercise and higher micronutrient and fiber intake. Additionally, this study noted that non-breakfast eaters have higher rates of smoking and drinking.
The breakfast-metabolism myth
At the root of the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is the myth believed by many health-conscious individuals to be fact: that eating breakfast boosts the metabolism. The truth is that eating in general revs our metabolism (which is why eating the bulk of your carbohydrates in the two-hour window post exercise is an excellent weight-loss trick), but no evidence suggests that breakfast in and of itself boosts metabolic activity more-so than any other meal.
Skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain
Don’t take my word for it; instead, consider the studies that have been done to answer this very question. A 2014 study with over 300 obese adult participants concluded that eating or skipping breakfast had no connection to obesity.
In fact, other studies have suggested that skipping breakfast can actually be an effective weight loss tool for certain individuals.
However, it is key to remember that this depends on the individual. One argument as to why skipping breakfast might lead to weight gain states that by eliminating the morning meal, hunger is increased throughout the day, and less healthy choices are therefore made. Cravings can lead to over-consumption of sugary and high carbohydrate foods, which absolutely will cause weight gain over time.
So, should I eat or skip breakfast?
Like so many dietary questions, the bottom line is that deciding whether to eat breakfast or not boils down to biochemistry, and personal choice. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition (and you might reconsider working with any nutritionist that tells you differently). Whether or not you should eat breakfast largely depends on several individual factors:
-Some are (and always have been) “morning people”. These people are not only early risers, but experience their spike of productivity and energy first thing upon waking. This group will likely thrive on a consistent and hearty breakfast routine, and might feel depleted without it.
-Pregnant women absolutely fall into the category of people who should eat breakfast. Maintaining stable blood sugar is essential, both for the health of the baby and to ward off morning sickness (which can actually occur any time of the day).
-Kids are another group that should consistently eat breakfast, mainly due to increased nutrient needs. This study looks at the positive correlation between breakfast consumption and academic performance in children.
-Those suffering from adrenal fatigue should definitely include breakfast. The adrenal glands are located near the kidneys and hold the immense responsibility of producing and releasing stress hormones. If we are in a time of increased stress, our adrenals can become fatigued and need support from nutritious foods at regular, two- to three-hour intervals .
-In a normal, healthy adult who feels just fine without breakfast (or maybe even better), breakfast can be optional.
With that said, it is still of utmost importance to consume an appropriate amount of calories from nutrient-dense foods throughout the entire day.
5 breakfast options to jump-start your day
Another major problem with breakfast in a typical, SAD (Standard American Diet) is that it usually consists of high carbohydrate, high sugar foods lacking in key macro and micronutrients, such as processed cereal with non or low-fat milk. This type of breakfast is a recipe for blood sugar dips and spikes, which lead to increased cravings later in the day.
If you simply feel better with breakfast, or if you fall into one of the categories mentioned above, try these healthy options:
Eggs and Greens: 1-3 eggs, 2 handfuls of greens such as kale, chard or spinach, and 1/2 cup raw sauerkraut (which is excellent for supporting digestion and immune health).
Avocado and eggs: 1-2 hard boiled eggs (made ahead of time) with half an avocado sprinkled with sea salt.
Apple and nut butter: One sliced apple with one-two tablespoons of almond butter.
Toast and avocado: One to two slices of gluten free sourdough or multi-grain toast, spread with avocado and several slices of organic cheese.
Pre-made frittata: Over the weekend, make a frittata that includes grass-fed beef and vegetables. Store in the fridge and take a slice with you if your mornings are rushed.
Yogurt and toppings: Whole, plain yogurt with 1 tablespoon of nuts/seeds, 1 tablespoon ground flax or chia seeds, 1 piece of fruit, and a pinch of cinnamon and/or other natural sweetener, if needed (honey or maple syrup).
Power smoothie: Smoothie with unsweetened almond, coconut or regular milk (organic is possible), 1 cup berries, 1 cup spinach or other greens of your choice, 1 serving of a high quality protein powder (pea, hemp or grass-fed whey are great choices), and ice and water depending on desired consistency.
Very simple option: Dinner leftovers.
Always remember that your bodies cues are the best guide as to whether or not eating breakfast is right for you. If you find yourself gagging food down in the morning simply because you’ve always heard that breakfast is essential, try experimenting with moving your first meal of the day back a bit. As long as the rest of your day is full of real, nutrient-dense foods, going without breakfast shouldn’t be a problem.