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
It has been shown regular breakfast eaters generally have more balanced diets than those who skip it
Missing breakfast may lead to snacking on less healthy foods later in the day
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
Skipping breakfast is thought to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (including dyslipidaemia, increased blood pressure and coronary heart disease), type 2 diabetes and obesity
Particularly, an impairment of insulin sensitivity is associated with skipping breakfast
These adverse effects of skipping breakfast have primarily been found in habitual breakfast eaters, not individuals that regularly skip breakfast
Similarly to point 1, correlation does not mean causation. Habitual breakfast consumers also tend to be non-smokers, consume less fat and alcohol but more fiber and micronutrients, and critically, are more physically active. These factors have a compounding effect of reduced risk of chronic disease
Breakfast “kickstarts” your metabolism
Consuming food increases your metabolic rate because it takes energy to metabolise it. This is termed diet induced thermogenesis
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
Skipping breakfast is shown to be associated with a higher BMI and greater weight gain
This may be due to a number of reasons:
people who skip breakfast tend to eat more than breakfast eaters later in the day
those who skip breakfast have been shown to have decreased levels of fullness
eating breakfast is linked to higher physical activity during the day and therefore higher energy expenditure from physical activity
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.
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 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
BDA Food Facts, A Healthy Breakfast – The best to start the day, May 2003
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.
Thomas et al. (2015). Usual Breakfast Eating Habits Affect the Response to Breakfast Skipping in Overweight Women. Obesity. 23(4), 750–759
Schusziara et al. (2011). Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake - an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories. Nutrition Journal. 10 (5)
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