The Problem With Research
Is breakfast truly the most important meal of the day? Unfortunately, studies carried out to answer this question use different definitions of breakfast and skipping breakfast. The methods used in research are also inconsistent.
Even so, the evidence remains strong that breakfast is vital for overall nutrient density, weight loss, heart disease prevention, and reduction of impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes.
Children Need Breakfast
A report of the European branch of the World Health Organization illustrated that among 200,000 male and female schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 15, regular breakfast consumption was associated with higher intakes of vitamins and minerals. Students who ate breakfast consumed more fruits and vegetables and drank fewer soft drinks.
Children who skip breakfast:
- Eat more saturated fat
- Consume less dietary fiber
- Get fewer vitamins and minerals from their diet
Children who eat breakfast cereals have higher intakes of total sugar (but not of added sugar). However, they garner the benefits of more fiber coupled with lower intakes of fat and sodium. They also tend to have higher intakes of most vitamins and minerals.
Breakfast consumption is associated with better cognitive performance and academic achievement. Children who eat breakfast do better at tasks that require attention, executive function, and memory.
Breakfast and Weight Loss
According to the National Weight Loss Registry, 78% of people who lost weight and kept it off for at least five years eat breakfast every day.
Eating breakfast, especially if the meal is high in protein, might increase dopamine levels in the brain, reducing food cravings and overeating later in the day. In one study, the breakfast meal had to contain at least 30 grams of protein and 350 calories to improve appetite control and satiety. In another review, only half of the studies showed improvements in appetite and satiety outcomes after consuming a lower-calorie breakfast (<200 calories). Regardless of calorie or protein content, meal replacement beverages do not lessen appetite as solid foods do.
Levels of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage, fall after eating breakfast (especially one that is higher in protein). At the same time, levels of PYY and GLP-1, both of which lessen appetite, increase.
Although it seems that in some cases, more fat is burnt when we exercise on an empty stomach, research from the University of Bath in the UK found that breakfast eaters expended more energy via physical activity throughout the day compared to individuals who fasted until noon. When extrapolated across 24 hours, the increase in energy expenditure ranged from 40 to 200 calories per day and varied based on the type of breakfast foods consumed.
Breakfast and Heart Health
Individuals who skip breakfast are more likely to have an overall unhealthy lifestyle, including poor overall diet, frequent alcohol consumption, and smoking. However, there is also an association between skipping breakfast and atherosclerosis, independent of other lifestyle factors. Individuals who consume mostly toast, pastries, and coffee in the morning are at especially high risk for atherosclerotic plaques.
A cohort study showed a 14% greater risk of cardiovascular disease, 18% greater risk of total stroke, and a 36% greater risk of hemorrhage among those who skip breakfast. In another study, breakfast skippers had an average 27% higher risk of coronary heart disease, but BMI and health conditions mediated the risk.
A multivariable analysis controlling for waist circumference, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and smoking, suggested that skipping breakfast could be a risk factor for the early onset of atherosclerosis. In this analysis, 45% of those who skipped breakfast followed a “social-business eating plan,” including unhealthy food choices, frequent eating out, and busy schedules. These individuals had the highest intake of red and processed meat, appetizers, sugar-sweetened beverages, and alcohol during the rest of the day.
Breakfast and Metabolism
The American Heart Association issued a scientific opinion in 2017 concluding that “daily breakfast consumption among US adults may decrease the risk of adverse effects related to glucose and insulin metabolism.” Even in young, healthy people, glycemic response after lunch was significantly higher in those who skipped breakfast.
If you don’t like breakfast, there are a few things that might make it easier for you:
- Don’t limit yourself to “breakfast foods.” If you want a turkey and cheese sandwich, go for it.
- Make your breakfast the night before.
- Split your breakfast into two “snacks” eaten an hour or two apart.
- Try eating your breakfast earlier in the evening, if possible. Don’t snack at nighttime.
Regardless of what you may hear in the media, research proves that breakfast is vital for good health. Just don’t set the tone for your day with a sugar-laden pop-tart! You’re worth so much more.
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