Breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day, but is it really true? Some people swear by eating a hearty breakfast to start their day, while others prefer to skip it or have a light snack. What does the science say about the benefits and drawbacks of eating breakfast?
According to a recent systematic review of 14 observational studies, people who eat breakfast seven times per week have a reduced risk for several cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol. However, these studies cannot prove that breakfast is the cause of these health benefits, as there may be other factors involved.
For example, people who eat breakfast regularly may also have healthier lifestyles, such as exercising more, smoking less, or eating more fruits and vegetables. These habits may contribute to their lower risk of disease, regardless of whether they eat breakfast or not.
On the other hand, some studies suggest that skipping breakfast may not be as harmful as previously thought. A randomized controlled trial published in 2017 found that skipping breakfast did not affect the circadian rhythms of people with or without type 2 diabetes. Circadian rhythms are the natural cycles of the body that regulate sleep, metabolism, hormones, and other functions.
Another study published in 2019 found that skipping breakfast did not lead to weight gain or increased appetite in healthy adults. In fact, the participants who skipped breakfast consumed fewer calories throughout the day than those who ate breakfast.
Breakfast and nutrient intake
One of the main arguments in favor of eating breakfast is that it provides an opportunity to consume important nutrients that the body needs. However, this depends on the quality and quantity of the breakfast, as well as the overall dietary pattern of the individual.
A study that analyzed data from over 30,000 North Americans found that people who skipped breakfast tended to miss out on some key nutrients, such as folate, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin D. However, this does not mean that skipping breakfast is the sole cause of these nutrient deficiencies, as the study did not account for other factors, such as food choices, portion sizes, or supplement use.
Moreover, eating breakfast does not guarantee adequate nutrient intake, especially if the breakfast consists of low-fiber, high-sugar, or highly processed foods, such as pastries, cereals, or juices. These foods may provide a quick burst of energy, but they can also spike blood sugar levels and lead to cravings, hunger, and overeating later in the day.
A more balanced and nutritious breakfast would include foods that are high in fiber, protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants, such as whole grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. These foods can help keep the blood sugar stable, promote satiety, and provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that support the health of the gut, brain, and immune system.
Breakfast and personal preferences
Ultimately, the decision to eat or skip breakfast may depend on the personal preferences, goals, and needs of each individual. Some people may feel more energized, focused, and productive after eating breakfast, while others may feel more comfortable, alert, and creative when they skip it.
The key is to listen to the body and find out what works best for oneself. Some factors that may influence this decision include:
- The time of waking up and going to bed
- The level of physical activity and energy expenditure
- The presence of any medical conditions or medications
- The appetite and hunger signals
- The mood and mental state
- The availability and accessibility of food
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to eating breakfast. What matters more is the overall quality and quantity of the diet, as well as the consistency and regularity of the eating pattern. As long as a person can meet their nutritional needs and maintain their health and well-being, breakfast may not be the most critical meal of the day.