Health Advice

The Importance of Breakfast

Article by: Consultant Dietitian Charity Chin


What is breakfast?

Before knowing the importance of breakfast, let’s define what is breakfast? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the specific definition proposed was: “Breakfast is the first meal of the day that breaks the fast after the longest period of sleep and is consumed within 2 to 3 hours of waking; it is comprised of food or beverage from at least one food group and may be consumed at any location” [1].  

We often hear the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” you might think that the recommendation not to skip breakfast is just a piece of plain good advice.

Well, is breakfast really that important? Studies and research have found reasons and benefits for eating breakfast within a few hours of waking as the “most important meal of the day” [2]. Most institutes of nutrition and dietetics in the US, UK, and Australia among many have recommended eating a healthy breakfast as one of the vital components of a nutritionally optimal diet [2].

Various health surveys and cross-sectional studies reported morning meals to have a positive effect on memory recall, children’s performance, mood, work performance, cognitive function, women’s health like irregular mensuration and reduction in obesity, and effect on body mass index [7].

Yet, people around the world still skip breakfast due to several reasons like lack of time, wanting to spend the extra time being in bed, following a certain fad diet, too tired to bother, family environment, cultural reasons, single-parent family, not feeling hungry in the morning, no breakfast foods readily available in the house, or having several misconceptions like thinking of being obese [7, 8].

Disadvantages of Skipping Breakfast

There is significant interest in the role of skipping breakfast as it has shown adverse effects on health outcomes [2]. Many researchers and studies, including longitudinal studies, showed that people skipping breakfast or eating slightly fewer calories during the day is associated with unhealthy behaviors, poorer diet habits, lower physical activity, and also tend to have higher detrimental effects and metabolic risk factors, including general obesity, higher body mass index (BMI), abdominal obesity, larger waist circumference, metabolic syndrome, higher fasting insulin, hypertension, and higher total blood cholesterol levels and increased in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentrations which have significantly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, especially stroke-specific mortality and atherosclerosis.

In addition, it has also been linked to a higher risk of diabetes type 2 and cardiometabolic factors independent of dietary quality, as caloric restriction may influence oxidative stress and inflammation which play vital factors in the development of cardiometabolic disorders [3, 4, 5, 6].

Skipping breakfast was also associated with stress-independent overactivity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis because of a longer period of fasting, leading to elevated blood pressure in the morning [6].

Skipping breakfast might also induce harmful changes in lipid levels, such as higher total cholesterol and atherogenic low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) as those individuals tend to have a higher caloric intake at dinner, which is correlated with the dysregulated circadian clock in the pancreas that drives the increased levels of postprandial blood glucose and hence having linkage with incidence for T2DM and cardiovascular diseases [5, 6]. And lastly, skipping breakfast may be a behavioral marker for unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits. [6].

Benefits of Consuming Breakfast

There are many studies showing the health benefits of eating breakfast. Breakfast replenishes our supply to boost energy levels and alertness, providing and contributing to our daily food and nutrient intake as well as other essential nutrients for our health due to its ability to jumpstart the body’s metabolism by breaking the overnight fasting period [2, 8].

Eating breakfast can help with better weight management, and reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the long term [8]. Eating breakfast is the most effective way of weight loss because it helps to burn more calories throughout the day.

One of the first few studies on the effect of caloric distribution along the day and weight loss showed that subjects who had high-calorie breakfasts (e.g., 700 kcal) and low-calorie dinners (e.g., 300 kcal) lost significantly more weight than those who had low-calorie breakfasts and high-calorie dinners [3].

Many studies have compared that consuming breakfast has a beneficial effect on promoting cardiovascular health and preventing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

It also affects appetite regulation and also improves the glycemic response at the next eating occasion with increased sensitivity to insulin [6]. Additionally, eating breakfast has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, which in turn may prevent blood vessel clogging, hemorrhage, and cardiovascular events [6].

Breakfast Ideas

There is a saying by Adelle Davis, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”. This concept appears to align with some current evidence concerning the appropriate proportioning of daily meals [5]. It is important to make a good breakfast choice and carefully select what you want to start your day with. The ideal preferences are liquid or soft food that can be digested easily, easy to absorb, high nutrient-rich food, protein, and plant-based milk preferable. Here are some suggestions for those on the go:

  • High-fiber cereal with fresh fruit and low-fat milk or oat or soy milk substitute 
  • Breakfast shakes: Low-fat protein shakes or smoothies with fresh or frozen fruit
  • High fiber toast or sourdough bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter or tahini spread 
  • Select a protein bar, plain Greek yogurt, or a glass of milk 
  • Overnight oats (rolled oats soaked in milk overnight in the fridge with your favorite fruits and healthy toppings) 
  • Oatmeal combines with berries or banana and walnuts or flaxseed

When choosing your breakfast, especially those with protein bars and some yogurts (or yogurt toppings), be mindful that they might contain a lot of added sugar. Therefore, it is recommended to keep added sugars under 20 grams and look for protein or breakfast bars with about 6-10 grams of protein, and 3 or more grams of fiber [4].

Conclusion

It is important to start your day with your favorites. Eat a variety of nutritious foods and choose whole foods that can keep you fuller longer and avoid snacking to prevent unwanted weight gains and sickness. Plan ahead, as a little planning goes a long way not only for your time but also for your health.

You may consult with a dietitian if you need to get yourself back on track or look for menu ideas. You may share your food preferences and restrictions with a dietitian to help you with a good plan of action.


References:

  1. O’Neil CE, Byrd-Bredbenner C, Hayes D, Jana L, Klinger SE, Stephenson-Martin S. The role of breakfast in health: definition and criteria for a quality breakfast. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(12 Suppl): S8–26.
  1. Gibney MJ, Barr SI, Bellisle F, Drewnowski A, Fagt S, Livingstone B, et al. Breakfast in human nutrition: The International Breakfast Research Initiative. Nutrients. 2018;10(5):559.
  1. Lopez-Minguez J, Gómez-Abellán P, Garaulet M. Timing of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Effects on obesity and metabolic risk. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2624.
  1. Why you should eat breakfast. Rush.edu.
  1. Santos HO, Genario R, Macedo RCO, Pareek M, Tinsley GM. Association of breakfast skipping with cardiovascular outcomes and cardiometabolic risk factors: an updated review of clinical evidence. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2022;62(2):466–74.
  1. Rong S, Snetselaar LG, Xu G, Sun Y, Liu B, Wallace RB, et al. Association of skipping breakfast with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73(16):2025–32.
  1. Rani R, Dharaiya CN, Singh B. Importance of not skipping breakfast: a review. Int J Food Sci Technol. 2021;56(1):28–38.
  1. Gov.au. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/breakfast
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