We all heard it when we were kids. And our kids still hear it now. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” We also heard, “You can’t be at your best without eating breakfast” and, “Breakfast fuels your morning.” Any combination of those statements has been emphasizing to us all that our day can’t possibly begin without sitting down to a good, healthy breakfast.
But that’s actually been debated for years. Adding to the ongoing debate about what makes for good food habits is another new study refuting the long-held notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s certainly not the first study to suggest this, but just one in a chain that has suggested that breakfast may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Earlier this year, another team had reported that when overweight and obese participants were asked to skip or eat breakfast, both groups lost the same amount of weight. Now, the new research, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, finds that normal weight breakfast eaters also aren’t necessarily any better off than breakfast skippers, at least metabolically speaking.
The study, conducted at the University of Bath, had 33 normal weight men and women either eat a breakfast (of at least 700 calories) before 11 a.m. or skip it all together. They recorded various metabolic markers – resting metabolic rate, cholesterol, and blood glucose – over a period of six weeks to see if there were any measurable differences between the two groups.
And there really weren’t any big ones. The only discernible difference was that breakfast skippers ate fewer total calories over the course of the day, which counters the image of the breakfast skipper binging later on to make up for the loss. The downside was that they did burn fewer calories over the course of a day. Meanwhile, breakfast eaters were more active in the morning, but this mainly offset the extra calories they’d consumed for breakfast.
In terms of metabolic profiles, the two groups looked pretty close. The breakfast group, especially at the end of the six weeks, did have slightly more stable blood sugar levels over the course of a day than breakfast skippers.
“I almost never have breakfast,” study author James Betts told The Times. “That was part of my motivation for conducting this research, as everybody was always telling me off and saying I should know better.” He added that he doesn’t have plans to change his routine.
Other studies have suggested that skipping breakfast is linked to considerably poorer cardiovascular health: One large study last year, which followed nearly 27,000 men over a period of 16 years, showed that skipping breakfast was linked to a 27% increased risk of coronary heart disease. The authors said this is likely due to the connections between extended fasting and blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance.
It’s worth mentioning that the current study was very small and short-term, and it will need to be repeated with more people and over a longer period of time. It may be that the effects of breakfast-skipping add up over time, and the results only evident after several years.
The bottom line is still that you should do what feels right. If you wake up famished and can’t make it more than an hour without feeling woozy, you should probably eat breakfast. But if you don’t even think about eating till midday, then you’re probably fine to skip it. There’s so much individual variation in nutrition and metabolism that the idea that eating breakfast is either a good thing or a bad thing is getting pretty hard to swallow.
It’s possible that some of the old food cliches that have become standard beliefs over generations may not be as true as we once thought. There are still a few, though, that FoodFacts.com believes might still be worth repeating to future generations. “Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.” “You are what you eat.” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And while breakfast might eventually prove to NOT be the most important meal of the day, we do think there’s still something to be said for it. A healthy meal in the morning just might set the tone for the rest of the choices we make during the day.