Is Breakfast Still the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Words: Robyn Samuels

In a world where intermittent fasting, health trends and diet culture are ever-growing, is breakfast still the most important meal of the day?

The adage “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” took off when nutritionist, Adelle Davis, offered a comment in 1960, on how to keep healthy and avoid obesity. She responded, “One should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”

The phrase has since been preached by parents, doctors and cereal brands across the globe – but is this a wasted notion when eating breakfast has become phased out of diets due to intermittent fasting and lack of appetite?

Why Are People Skipping Breakfast?

Before the Western radicalisation of intermittent fasting, it was believed that the healthiest way to go about your day was to eat three meals a day – no more, no less.

Skipping breakfast, or any meal for that matter, was as taboo as skipping leg day at the gym is today. Back then, the standard diet narrowly fitted a ‘pyramid scheme’, but the idea of what constitutes a so-called ‘healthy’ diet has changed. The number of diets available has tipped the scales and the latest one, intermittent fasting, is top of the leaderboard. Forget about sugar-coated cereal, yesterday’s overnight oats is today’s quinoa bowl. The only saving grace in a calorie-obsessed world is all-day breakfast menus with cryptic codes – ‘Did you want the GF, DF, EF, SF or V pancakes?’ your waiter asks.

As an advocate for breakfast foods, I can’t say I’ll give up my bacon and beans any time soon, but we can’t deny that intermittent fasting has become a popular lifestyle choice for many.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern that involves caloric restriction by limiting food consumption to certain intervals of the day. The fasting period can last approximately 16 hours, leaving an 8-hour window for eating; some people may prefer the 14/10 eating schedule. There’s also the 5:2 approach, which involves fasting for two consecutive or alternate days per week. It’s also usually coupled with keto, Banting or flexitarian diets and exercise regimens. Read all about whether intermittent fasting is really worth the hype.

While intermittent fasting is flexible and can be customised to fit dietary needs, people typically fast during the morning. But is intermittent fasting worth ditching breakfast? Plus, isn’t it ‘bad’ to skip breakfast?

The body needs a certain amount of energy for daily functioning; this is achieved by burning glucose from carbohydrates. When the body is subjected to fasting or restricted caloric intake, it burns fat instead. For this reason, intermittent fasting is a popular weight loss approach, but it also has other supposed benefits:

  • Improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of cancers
  • Enhanced cognitive function and physical energy
  • Improved sleeping patterns and regulated circadian rhythms
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Regulated metabolic rates
  • Potential weight loss and reduced appetite

While there’s much research to be done to determine the full potential of intermittent fasting – as the majority of the data has been derived from studies done on underfed rats and not from humans – the results might make people curious about skipping breakfast.

Isn’t Skipping Breakfast ‘Unhealthy’?

For many years, people have warned that skipping meals is ‘unhealthy’, with claims that it could cause weight gain. One study in Southern China, examined the associations between breakfast eating habits and whether participants led a ‘health-promoting lifestyle’. The results concluded that frequent breakfast eaters registered higher values for health-promoting lifestyle measurements and scored better on the sub-health scale, while participants who rarely ate breakfast were three times more likely to have sub-optimal health statuses. The early bird catches the worm, right…?

The study also suggested that those who typically skip breakfast could be smokers or drinkers, meaning higher cholesterol, fat and calorie markers than breakfast cohorts.

According to a Cambridge study in 2021, skipping breakfast is linked to nutrient gaps and poorer diet quality among U.S. American adults. Apart from displaying lowered risks for chronic diseases, habitual breakfast eaters are said to have greater nutrient intakes and get more than their five a day – specifically for folate, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D.

What you consume is also worth noting. The makings of a traditional breakfast vary across the globe. Vietnamese nationals might be accustomed to eating a bowl of broth garnished with veggies (pho), while an all-American breakfast might constitute a syrup-drenched and butter-laden stack of pancakes. Breakfast eaters can’t collectively be deemed healthier – lifestyle choices also contribute significantly to the outcome.

The Benefits of Eating Breakfast

Another study analysed the effects of regular breakfast habits on metabolic and cardiovascular diseases – results showed that people eating breakfast more than three times a week were at less risk of having type-2 diabetes mellitus, abdominal obesity, hypertension and strokes compared to those who infrequently eat breakfast. While the results are convincing, the study outcomes depict that the particular group of breakfast eaters are at a lower risk for cardio and metabolic diseases, but the conjecture can’t be attributed to eating breakfast.

Furthermore, skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily result in weight gain – based on speculation that people tend to overcompensate for hunger at other meal times and gorge on larger portions. This study determined that while consuming breakfast could satiate appetites, the daily energy intake (calorie intake) and energy expenditure (calories burned) were similar for both breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters.

Although certain observational data studies imply that neglecting breakfast could lead to weight gain, other controlled trials beg to differ and infer that skipping or eating breakfast has “no discernible effect on weight loss” – a win-win for all.

Ok so, breakfast might not be the most important meal of the day, but it’s arguably the most delicious. Try these breakfast recipes to help you champion the day.

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