Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day?


We have all heard it before – breakfast is the most important meal of the day.


But why is breakfast so important?

Here are some of the reasons and beliefs around the importance of breakfast.

1. Having regular breakfast may lead to a healthier lifestyle

Pro:

Con:

  • While regular breakfast consumption correlates to a healthy lifestyle, it does not mean that it causes it. In fact, habitual breakfast consumers also tend to be non-smokers, consume less alcohol and are more physically active, all of which contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

  • Equally, individuals leading a healthy lifestyle may place more importance on having a regular breakfast, and on avoiding snacking on unhealthy snacks.

2. Skipping breakfast can increase the risk of chronic disease

Pro:

Con:

Breakfast “kickstarts” your metabolism

Pro:

  • Consuming food increases your metabolic rate because it takes energy to metabolise it. This is termed diet induced thermogenesis

Con:

  • If the same amount of calories are eaten, it makes minimal difference at what time of the day they are eaten. This means that the amount of food taken in during the day affects metabolic rate more than the frequency and/or timing

3. Skipping breakfast can lead to weight gain

Pro:

Con:

  • A causal relationship between breakfast skipping and weight gain has not been established (again, this is a clear correlation but not a causation)

  • While some individuals gain weight when skipping breakfast, others lose weight because the missed calories are not compensated for during the rest of the day

  • Equally, an energy-rich breakfast does not always induce subsequent under-eating to compensate for the extra calories consumed in comparison to a day that started with a breakfast containing less energy

  • In fact, weight gain or loss largely depends on habitual eating patterns and behaviour. Requiring non-breakfast eaters to eat breakfast can in higher caloric intake and weight gain, while requiring breakfast eaters to skip breakfast can result in caloric compensation and associated weight gain.

Conclusion

Regular breakfast consumption is associated with a healthy lifestyle. However, this is a correlation, not a causation. Individuals who typically have breakfast, have the tendency to be more physically active, be non-smokers, drink relatively less alcohol and have a more nutrient and fibre dense diet, all of which can compound to a lower risk of chronic disease.

Additionally, adverse effects on overall health, particularly heightened insulin levels, depend on whether individuals are habitual or non-habitual breakfast eaters. Breakfast skipping is shown to have enhanced effects in habitual eaters, driven by regulatory systems of appetite and metabolism.

Similarly, the association between weight gain and skipping breakfast depends on habits and eating patterns. While some people will subconsciously compensate for calories skipped, others will not feel cravings of the same magnitude

Therefore, if you are naturally inclined to eat breakfast, nothing should stop you. Equally, if you find it difficult to eat first thing and habitually skip breakfast, adverse effects will likely be less pronounced, if present at all.

Having said that, it is advisable that you should not skip breakfast if you:

  • are pregnant

  • are a child or adolescent who is still growing

  • suffer from impaired glucose regulation

  • are hungry soon after waking up and wants to feel full in the morning

  • need to exercise at peak performance in the morning

  • wish to optimise muscle gain or retention

  • enjoy eating breakfast

References

  1. BDA Food Facts, A Healthy Breakfast – The best to start the day, May 2003

  2. Betts, J.A., et al. (2014). The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100 (2), 539.

  3. Thomas et al. (2015). Usual Breakfast Eating Habits Affect the Response to Breakfast Skipping in Overweight Women. Obesity. 23(4), 750–759

  4. https://examine.com/nutrition/is-it-really-that-bad-to-skip-breakfast

  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/confessions-of-a-breakfast-skipper-2017020911073

  6. Schusziara et al. (2011). Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake - an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories. Nutrition Journal. 10 (5)

  7. LeCheminant et al. (2017). A randomized controlled trial to study the effects of breakfast on energy intake, physical activity, and body fat in women who are nonhabitual breakfast eaters. Appetite. 112, 44-51

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