Is Breakfast The Most Important Meal? Fact Vs. Myth

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When it comes to the science of wellness, distinguishing the facts from the urban legends can be tough. That’s why we’ve enlisted Darya Pino – a scientist, foodie, and self-proclaimed geek girl. Check out the ZocDoc Blog every Tuesday to see her bust the biggest myths in health. Enjoy!

We’ve all heard the urban legend that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But is there any real science to back up this claim?

The most common reason cited for the value of breakfast comes from several large studies that have shown breakfast eaters to be thinner and healthier than breakfast skippers. While this is true, the studies have also found that breakfast eaters tend to have healthier habits all around than breakfast skippers, so it is not clear if breakfast eaters are thinner because they eat first thing in the morning or because of the other healthy things they do throughout the day.

Interestingly, despite the lower body weights of breakfast eaters, there have been mixed results regarding whether eating breakfast impacts how much is eaten over the rest of the day. Some studies have even shown that breakfast eaters eat more total calories than non-breakfast eaters.

That being said, there is some evidence that breakfast offers unique benefits over other meals. Because eating can affect metabolism, hormones, and subsequent appetite for several hours after food is consumed, what you eat in the morning can impact your body throughout the day. What you have for breakfast can also influence how your body handles the calories from subsequent meals (i.e. lunch and dinner). Over time, these effects can add up to meaningful changes in health and body weight.

In one study published this year in the Journal of Nutrition a group of healthy, normal-weight men who usually eat breakfast were tested for how a morning meal impacted hormones and metabolism throughout the day. They either ate a standardized breakfast or skipped breakfast, then took a glucose tolerance test before lunchtime. Insulin resistance at the next meal was higher when skipping breakfast compared to eating breakfast, and appetite-regulating hormones like ghrelin were more favorable in the breakfast condition. This suggests that skipping breakfast can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain.

However, what you eat for breakfast may be even more important than the act itself. A growing body of evidence suggests that breakfasts rich in protein and fiber can have a significant impact on your appetite and how many calories you eat throughout the day.

Last year, the International Journal of Obesity reported that adolescents who ate a protein-rich breakfast had lower appetites and ate less during the day, whereas a protein-neutral breakfast was not better than skipping breakfast.

The quality of carbohydrate also has a significant effect on post-breakfast metabolism. In one study, breakfast with a lower glycemic index and load boosted metabolism and burned more fat more than a breakfast of higher glycemic index and load.

Eating breakfast also appears to improve cognitive abilities, particularly in children and adolescents.

Another often-ignored advantage of eating breakfast is that it is one of the easiest meals to prepare and control, meaning it is a fantastic way to ensure that 30 percent of your daily meals are nutritious and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Scrambling some eggs or heating some oatmeal with nuts and fruit takes just five minutes to prepare, and guarantees at least one healthy meal every day.

To summarize, eating breakfast is a habit that can help you build a healthy lifestyle and can improve your metabolism throughout the day. For best results, choose breakfasts that are higher in protein and fiber and low in flour, sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

When it comes to the science of wellness, distinguishing the facts from the urban legends can be tough. That’s why we’ve enlisted Darya Pino – a scientist, foodie, and self-proclaimed geek girl. Check out the ZocDoc Blog every Tuesday to see her bust the biggest myths in health.

Image: Blueberry Maple Quinoa, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from SweetOnVeg’s photostream.

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  • alpha1

    Hmmm, so in the previous centuries when there was no concept of morning we had more obese people than today when almost everyone has breakfast … right?

    Perhaps you are looking at wrong thing altogether. Its not about whether breakfast or not.
    It may be simply that we are so bored with our lives and activities that all our mind can think of is food and thus we keep gorging on it continuously while we are awake.
    And breakfast doesn’t make any difference unless we clean up our overall act … ?