I admit it, I am a breakfast advocate. I have worked with many patients who skip breakfast (and even lunch) to then overeat later in the day. Concentration and energy levels can run low, blood sugars can drop, and you may end up thinking about food more by not eating it. Personally, my “hunger monster” comes out by 10:00 AM if I have not eaten a balanced breakfast (ie. 3+ food groups) that includes some protein/healthy fats/complex carbs and fiber. But what does the research really say regarding breakfast?
For kids there is a lot of data suggesting breakfast is very important. Studies show kids who are breakfast eaters perform better on standardized tests, have improved behavior, attendance, and focus in school. Pairing breakfast with regular physical activity during the school day leads to even better outcomes on mental and physical health. But what about adults and weight management – is breakfast really the key? Overall, there is no easy answer. One recent 16-week study found no significant difference in weight loss between breakfast eaters or skippers. Another 6-week study found no significant difference in its healthy weight participants on resting metabolic rate, appetite, body fat or markers of heart healthy between breakfast eaters or skippers. However, the breakfast eaters did burn more calories throughout the morning (though they also consumed more calories), and they did have more stable blood sugar levels in the afternoon/evening than the breakfast skippers. Click here for more on these studies/summaries.
So, what’s the bottom line? Like most human feeding trials, there were limitations to the studies above and more research is needed to draw reliable and accurate conclusions. But it certainly gives us reason to reconsider the blanket recommendation to “eat breakfast every day” or reconsider the phrase that “breakfast is the most important meal” for everyone. More important is the need personalize eating and breakfast recommendations to meet the individual’s health and weight goals. What’s my advice as a registered dietitian? Go with your gut and pay attention to hunger/fullness and how you feel physically; and be patient – it will take some trial and error. You may find eating a snack vs. a whole meal at breakfast is best for you, or skipping breakfast and maybe eating an early lunch works better with your schedule and feelings of hunger. Whatever you choose, remember what works for one person will not work for all. Working toward more mindful eating, self-awareness and listening to what your body needs as fuel will best help you to meet your health goals. For myself, I will continue to eat breakfast daily.
Kristine Van Workum, RD, CSSD, LDN
LifeShape Registered Dietitian & Owner of Brevard Nutrition