Ah, breakfast. The greatest meal of the day — or so they say. But is breakfast actually all that important? For many of us, breakfast might be a quick slice of toast washed down with a large cup of coffee. Some may just grab a banana or an apple on their way out of the door. Other people might be in the habit of skipping breakfast altogether.
Our busy lives mean that breakfast might not always be our top priority. After all, it's a small meal and many people don't feel hungry till lunchtime. But what are the health risks of skipping breakfast?
We spoke to the experts and did a little research about all things breakfast — why is it so important and what happens if you miss it? Plus, we will offer some delicious breakfast options, including the best protein bars to eat on the go, or the best protein powder to stir into your bowl of oatmeal.
What are the benefits of eating breakfast?
You may not realize it, but eating breakfast comes with plenty of benefits.
“If you eat the right breakfast, benefits include steady glucose levels, consistent energy, less cravings and a better mood,” says registered nutritionist and gut health specialist, Marilia Chamon (opens in new tab).
“Research shows that eating regularly across the day, inclusive of breakfast, may have physical benefits such as reduced inflammation and improved physiological resilience,” adds Jessica Crawley (opens in new tab), a registered dietitian.
So, what does the research say? On one hand, eating breakfast regularly can have benefits for your mental health. One 2020 study published in Psychological Medicine (opens in new tab) found that those who skip or delay eating breakfast are more likely to develop a mood disorder.
Another study in Public Health Nutrition (opens in new tab) found a strong link between healthy breakfasts and improved mental health in adolescents, while a study in Psychiatry Research (opens in new tab) on 716 people in Japan found that skipping breakfast frequently made depression far more likely.
And eating breakfast doesn’t just benefit your mental health — it can also improve your physical health, too.
A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (opens in new tab) concluded that people who don’t eat breakfast are 87% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or stroke than those who do.
Another 2021 study in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (opens in new tab) found that people who skip breakfast are more likely to miss out on important nutrients in their daily routine — namely, calcium from milk, vitamin C from fruit and vitamin D and iron from most cereals. In other words, breakfast foods tend to contain important nutrients that we don’t always get from typical lunch and dinner foods.
Is eating breakfast important for everyone?
Some people may actively choose to skip breakfast. For instance, those following an intermittent fasting diet might wait until lunch to eat. But it seems that the jury is still out on whether these types of diets are healthy.
“Eating breakfast is beneficial for everyone,” Crawley says. “Regular eating signals internal cues of safety to the body.”
However, Chamon thinks that in some special cases, breakfast might not be a necessity. “Some people do not feel hungry until later in the day and that is fine,” she says. “The most important thing is to make sure you are eating enough calories and fiber in all other meals.”
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Is breakfast really important?
It may seem like common sense to skip breakfast if you’re looking to lose weight, but it’s not always so simple. One 2019 study in the BMJ (opens in new tab) concluded that if adults do not currently eat breakfast and they are looking to lose weight, adding breakfast into the routine might not necessarily help. Nevertheless, as Harvard University (opens in new tab) pointed out in 2019, skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight either.
Because of the lack of conclusive research surrounding the benefits and risks of intermittent fasting, on the whole, we can conclude that eating breakfast is an important part of any healthy routine.
According to Chamon, breakfast is important, but what is even more important is that you have a healthy first meal of the day, whether it’s at breakfast time or lunch time.
“The first meal of the day will determine how your blood sugar levels will behave for the rest of the day,” she says. “If after hours of overnight fasting you break your fast with a high glycaemic meal your blood sugar will spike. This will lead to a sudden energy crash, followed by false hunger and a blood sugar roller coaster.”
Healthy breakfast ideas
So, where to begin? It can be hard forming healthy habits when you’re used to a breakfast that consists only of a cup of coffee. Here are some tips from the experts.
Chamon’s tips on eating a healthy breakfast:
- Choose a savory breakfast over a sweet one, if possible
- Make sure it is high in protein
- Add slow-releasing carbohydrates and healthy fats
- Omelet with leftover vegetables
- Smoked salmon, avocado and sourdough toast
- Greek yogurt (without added sugar) with low glycaemic fruits such as berries, and a handful of nuts and seeds
- Overnight oats with fruit compote
- Nuts and seed granola with Greek yogurt
- Smashed tomatoes and avocado on toast
- Crumpets with peanut butter or baked eggs
You could also make yourself up a smoothie or shake in the best protein shaker, for convenient nutrition on-the-go.
Overall, it seems that breakfast is a very important meal. While in some specific cases skipping breakfast may not be the end of the world, in most cases, the best thing to do for both the body and the mind is to get into the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every day. This way, you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices throughout the rest of the day, and set yourself up for healthy metabolic patterns all day long.