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Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?

To Breakfast or Not to Breakfast: That is the Question


break·​fast ˈbrek-fəst 

1: the first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning

2: the food prepared for a breakfast


Essentially, breakfast is the meal that breaks the fast from the night before, setting the stage for the day's nutritional intake.


Written By: Frances Spence

Reviewed By: Heather Bray, RD


*Disclaimer: the views and opinions of this article are based on the best available evidence and my professional opinion as a Registered Dietitian. This article is not meant to act as a substitute for medical or medical nutrition advice. For medical or medical nutrition advice that is designed for your individual needs, please consult your doctor or Registered Dietitian. 



white background overhead shot of table with breakfast options including fruit and whole grain cereal - is breakfast the most important meal? is breakfast healthy? dietitian opinion on breakfast, ontario, canada, halton hills, mississauga, toronto, northern ontario


Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?

Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day, but why?


The primary argument is that it replenishes your supply of glucose to boost energy levels and alertness while providing essential nutrients required for good health [2]. Breakfast can also kickstart your metabolism, which may help your body burn calories more efficiently throughout the day which helps you have more sustained energy levels.


Moreover, it sets a positive tone for making healthier food choices as the day progresses. Many people find that eating breakfast improves their mood and cognitive function, enabling them to concentrate better and be more productive.


However, it's important to remember that breakfast is not the be-all and end-all of nutrition. While it can provide a good start, missing breakfast doesn't mean you can't have a day of eating that’s both balanced and nutrient dense. Some people thrive on different eating schedules that don't include a traditional breakfast and can nourish their bodies effectively. Others, find a structure and schedule more helpful in meeting their daily nutrient needs.


Applying Intuitive Eating Principles to Breakfast


Intuitive eating emphasizes listening to your body's hunger cues. If you're not hungry in the morning, there's no need to force yourself to eat. The idea is to eat when hungry, not just because the clock says it's time for breakfast.


This approach can help maintain a healthier relationship with food and support better overall mental and physical health [3]. By tuning into your body's natural signals, you can make more mindful food choices that align with your needs. Over time, this practice fosters a sense of trust and respect for your body's unique rhythms.


Additionally, intuitive eating can reduce the stress and anxiety often associated with rigid meal schedules, promoting a more relaxed and enjoyable eating experience.


Important Note

There is, however, a caveat to the above. For some people with anxiety, ADHD, depression, those who don’t often feel hunger and fullness cues (e.g. stressful life circumstances, chronic dieting), people who have a tendency to binge eat at night OR those looking to move on from restrictive eating, it might make sense to implement something called mechanical eating. This is when we use general timelines and schedules to help the body get back into a regular routine with eating. There is so much nuance when answering the question of: is breakfast really important? which is why working with a Registered Dietitian to get individualized advice is so crucial. 



white background overhead shot of table with breakfast options including fruit and whole grain cereal - is breakfast the most important meal? is breakfast healthy? dietitian opinion on breakfast, ontario, canada, halton hills, mississauga, toronto, northern ontario

You Can Get Your Necessary Daily Nutrients with or without Breakfast


The key to a balanced diet is ensuring you get the necessary nutrients throughout the day, regardless of whether you eat breakfast or not. Studies show that people who skip breakfast can still meet their daily nutritional requirements by consuming balanced meals later in the day [2], [3].


For instance, incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins in your lunch and dinner can provide the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. Additionally, strategic snacking on nutrient-dense foods like nuts, seeds, and yogurt throughout the day can help fill nutritional gaps.


Ultimately, the focus should be on your diet's overall quality and variety rather than the specific timing of your meals.

There are some people however, who find that skipping breakfast causes their hunger and cravings to dramatically ramp up later in the day. Those who struggle with cravings and snacking at night may benefit from starting to eat earlier in the day to prevent compensatory eating behaviours. This is what happens when people eat large volumes of food to make up for the fact that they haven’t had enough to eat earlier in the day.


Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?


Short Answer: It Depends!


Some people thrive with a morning meal, while others do okay without it. The important thing is to find what works best for your body and lifestyle. If you’re concerned about meeting your daily nutrient needs or if you’re wondering if breakfast is really important for you, speak to a Registered Dietitian and consider some of the points below. 



white background overhead shot of table with breakfast options including fruit and whole grain cereal - is breakfast the most important meal? is breakfast healthy? dietitian opinion on breakfast, ontario, canada, halton hills, mississauga, toronto, northern ontario


Is Breakfast REALLY the Most Important Meal of the Day?


The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day comes from the belief that it can help control weight, improve concentration, and provide essential nutrients.


However, some recent research suggests that skipping breakfast might not be as detrimental as once thought. While it's true that some studies have found that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes, it's important to note that these studies are observational and cannot prove causation. The impact of breakfast on health varies from person to person, and what's crucial is the overall quality of the diet throughout the day​​ [2].


Benefits of Breakfast


Breakfast can provide several benefits, such as:


  • Better Nutrient Intake: Breakfast eaters are more likely to meet their daily nutrient requirements​​ [2].

  • Manage blood sugar: For people with diabetes, especially type 2, breakfast can play a critical role in managing blood sugar levels. Skipping breakfast has been associated with higher HbA1c levels and poorer glycemic control [5], [6]​​​​.

  • Improved Concentration and Performance in Children: Eating breakfast is linked to better cognitive function and school performance, particularly in those who are nutritionally at risk​​​​, particularly in children [4], [7].

  • Appetite Control: Eating breakfast can help regulate appetite and reduce hunger throughout the day. By starting the day with a balanced meal, you may find it easier to manage your hunger and avoid overeating during subsequent meals​​ [7]. 


two people having breakfast overhead shot of table with breakfast options including fruit and whole grain cereal - is breakfast the most important meal? is breakfast healthy? dietitian opinion on breakfast, ontario, canada, halton hills, mississauga, toronto, northern ontario


Why Might Someone Not Eat Breakfast?


People skip breakfast for various reasons:


  • They're short on time: THAT'S OKAY! Busy mornings can make it hard to fit in a meal. Focus on eating balanced meals and snacks when you can, ensuring you get the nutrients you need​​. [3]. You can always include balanced meals and snacks later in the day to help meet your needs. If you’re short on time and would like to have breakfast, consider prepping it ahead of time, try: smoothies, overnight oats, chia pudding or yogurt parfaits.


  • They don't feel Hungry: If you had a large meal the night before or woke up late, you might not feel hungry immediately​​ [2]. It’s okay to have breakfast later in the morning if you’d like. If you have a busy, stressful morning and consume a lot of coffee these could all be reasons why you’re not feeling hungry in the morning. Consider having something prepared so that when you do feel hungry, you have something ready to go. If you’re concerned about low appetite throughout the day, consider speaking to a Registered Dietitian to get support with this. 


Important Note:

Just because you're eating around breakfast time doesn't mean you have to stick to traditional breakfast foods. The goal is to have a balanced meal, regardless of what you choose to eat. Feel free to mix it up and include a variety of nutrient-dense foods in your morning meal​​ [3]. Check out my post for some tips! What Is A Balanced Meal.


Bottom Line

In the end, whether to eat breakfast sometimes comes down to personal preference. The most important factor is maintaining a balanced diet and listening to your body's hunger cues. If you enjoy breakfast and it helps you feel energized and focused, go for it! If not, make sure to meet your nutritional needs with other meals and snacks throughout the day.


Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and if you feel like you're struggling with your food intake throughout the day or relationship with food, contact me here.


References

  1. Merriam-Webster: America's Most Trusted Dictionary [Internet]. Definition of BREAKFAST; [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/breakfast

  2. DeSoto L. Medical and health information | MedicalNewsToday [Internet]. To eat or to skip breakfast? What the science says; 2022 Apr 30 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from:https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/is-breakfast-really-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day#Find-what-works-best-for-you

  3. ProQuest | Better research, better learning, better insights. [Internet]. Do You Really Need to Eat Breakfast Every Day? - ProQuest; 2017 Dec [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from: https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/do-you-really-need-eat-breakfast-every-day/docview/1967768217/se-2

  4. Pollitt E. Does Breakfast Make a Difference in School? Journal of the American Dietetic Association [Internet]. 2003 May [cited 2024 May 30];95(10):1134–1139. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-8223(95)00306-1 

  5. Jarvandi S, Schootman Mario , Racette S. Breakfast intake among adults with type 2 diabetes: influence on daily energy intake. Public Health Nutrition [Internet]. 2015 Aug [cited 2024 May 30];18(12):2146 – 2152. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980014002973 

  6. Reutrakul S, Hood M, Crowley S, Morgan M, Teodori M, Knutson K. The Relationship Between Breakfast Skipping, Chronotype, and Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes. The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research [Internet]. 2013 Oct [cited 2024 May 30];31(1):64–71. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3109/07420528.2013.821614 

  7. Giovannini M, Agostoni C, Shamir R. Symposium Overview: Do We All Eat Breakfast and is it Important? Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition [Internet]. 2010 Jan [cited 2024 May 30];50(10):97–99. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390903467373 

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