Breakfast - The Most Important Meal of the Day
A Nutritional Kick-start For Your Health
As a child of the 70’s, I learned few lessons as often as I learned this one. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” I would hear it in the morning, urging me to grab more than a granola bar on my way out the door. It was a mantra in home economics and health education. It blared over cereal ads on TV, and the first computer game I ever played was a creative PSA where breakfast foods did skateboard tricks and solved math problems.
Eventually you start to question what you’ve heard a thousand times. Is breakfast really that important? Is it that bad to only have a coffee in the morning? Is it still breakfast if it’s at noon?
What Makes a Healthy Breakfast
Studies show that people who eat breakfast regularly tend to have healthier eating habits overall. Overnight, the liver breaks down glycogen and releases it into your bloodstream as glucose to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Your brain relies almost entirely on glucose for energy, so replenishing those stores in the morning is crucial if you want to get through your day clear-headed and make healthier choices for lunch and dinner.
It’s important to keep in mind that we don’t see these benefits from every breakfast we eat. As unfair as the truth is, in comparison to a healthier meal you’ll find yourself less energetic and hungry again sooner if your breakfast always consists of sugary donuts or syrup-drenched, bacon-wrapped buffet items. There’s simply less nutritional value for the caloric cost, and you’d be better off with some spinach-scrambled eggs or avocado toast for a nice protein boost.
So then, what are some good options for breakfast? A quick search will yield thousands of Insta-worthy ideas, such as these. Fruit, whole grain toast, eggs, green tea, coffee, and protein shakes are all easy to whip up in the morning but still nutritious and delicious. Oatmeal, Greek yogurt, and chia seed pudding are also delicious–and portable!–options.
Can I Skip Breakfast?
Breakfast being the most important meal of the day has been part of the collective consciousness since the 60’s, but recent studies show that there might be more than one healthy way to start your day. Everyone’s habits and nutritional needs are a little different, and since studies in the past have ignored important factors such as the nutritional value of the food participants later logged for lunch and dinner, what works for most may not work for you.
A significant percentage of people do skip breakfast, about 15%. If you skip breakfast for the wrong reasons, such as restricting your food intake in the hopes of losing weight, that can easily backfire and make you ravenous later in the day. The general recommendation, instead of outright skipping, is to have a small nutritious snack–like Greek yogurt or some fruit–mid-morning to curb your hunger and keep your energy levels up.
While it may not be the most important meal time for you specifically, breakfast is undeniably important. Whenever you break your fast, the food you eat should provide nutrients to help you get through the day at the top of your game.
If you still have trouble starting your day with a meal, intermittent fasting might be a good option for you. Intermittent fasting has been shown to bolster your heart health by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improve your concentration and memory, and even boost tissue regenerative ability. Many have also found it to be an effective weight loss tool.
After hours without food, your body exhausts its sugar stores and metabolically switches to burning fat instead. Breakfast, no matter when in the day it is had, stops that process. Skipping an early-morning meal in favor of an 16:8 fast, for example (16 hours with only water and zero-calorie beverages like black coffee and green tea, then an 8 hour window in which you eat normally), pushes back your first meal of the day. That meal, however, is still very important: the nutrients you get at that point will impact your energy levels and alertness the rest of the day.
The great thing about intermittent fasting is that it is not restrictive like keto or paleo; you are encouraged to eat what you want in moderation. Just be sure to not treat your eating window as a free-for-all, or fasting won’t do much good. Instead, try to be mindful of the nutrition you are receiving and flavors you are enjoying. Still, experts recommend a Mediterranean diet focusing on complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats and lean protein.
It’s most important to find a system that works for you. If you know your body needs filling protein to power you through morning gym sessions, or if skipping breakfast makes you ravenous around lunchtime, it’s important to eat soon after getting up. For others, this could be the first domino in a day of overeating, or you would prefer a less-strict routine; just be sure you meet all of your nutritional requirements at some point during the day.
If you struggle to eat breakfast in the morning and want to get on a healthier track, there are plenty of resources to help you. For example, do you find that you can’t face food first thing in the morning? Feeling a little queasy about forcing down food you don’t feel like you need yet is common. For most, the solution is to either eat less (or earlier) the night before, or opt for routines like morning tea and a healthy mid-morning snack rather than a full-fledged meal.
If you do want a full meal but can’t ever find the time in the morning, there’s plenty of helpful tips out there like setting your alarm earlier or making it a team effort, but here’s the real one: meal prep. Just like laying your clothes out for the day ahead, taking 10 minutes at night to prep some cut fruit or throw overnight oats in the fridge will make all the difference come breakfast.