#180 Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal?

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Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Your grandmother was full of good advice. But if she told you that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” you only got part of the story.

An early meal can be a vitally important part of the day — for some people, and only if it’s a truly healthy breakfast.

What is a healthy breakfast?

What’s a truly healthy breakfast look like? Well, it looks something like what a lot of people have for dinner: A big salad with nuts and seeds on top served with some wild salmon and fruit.

As for the more standard American breakfast foods — processed cereal, pancakes or waffles doused with syrup, processed meats and fruit juice — that really couldn’t be a worse way to start the day. You might as well not eat breakfast at all.

Is skipping breakfast bad?

And for some people, skipping even a very healthy breakfast isn’t a bad idea. One exceptionally well-done study from England, for instance, demonstrated that metabolism and heart disease are not significantly affected by either eating or skipping breakfast.

Breakfast eaters in the study did appear to be more physically active in the morning — that’s a good thing. Breakfast eaters also ate more total calories, though, and had a statistic trend toward weight gain — that’s a bad thing.

Tip: Try a Break/fast

My general advice to my patients regarding breakfast is this:

  • Children should eat breakfast — and the healthier that breakfast can be, the better.
  • Adults should stop thinking about a Denny’s Grand Slam when they picture a typical breakfast and start thinking more about what a healthy lunch or dinner might look like, with a responsibly sized protein and plenty of veggies.
  • Eat breakfast if you need breakfast. Don’t eat it if you don’t.

How do you know if you need breakfast?

Choose a day a week to go without it and hold onto the habit for a month, paying close attention to how you feel during those days. If you find that your energy level isn’t impacted, try a second day. Make sure you’re eating a very healthy lunch and dinner on these days and the days preceding.

This sort of short fasting isn’t for everyone. Personally, I feel lethargic, grouchy and irritable without my breakfast.

Intermittent Fasting

For many of my patients this type of intermittent fasting has been one of the keys to better health. Why? Because short periods without food allow our bodies to “reset,” dedicating energy and attention to things other than the digestion of food and distribution of the chemicals it provides to us.

If skipping breakfast is not your preferred method of intermittent fasting, the same thing can be accomplished by not eating until morning after an early dinner. This resetting process from intermittent fasting is likely a big reason why some studies show that people who occasionally go without food may be less prone to suffer coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Take Home Message

The bottom line is that there simply is no scientific proof that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for adults.  If breakfast works for you then continue to eat breakfast.  If not, then don’t.

Do you eat breakfast?  Please share you thoughts and questions regarding breakfast in the comment section below.  If you liked this article, please follow the links to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

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Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

12 Comments
  1. A friend I met and stayed with who lives in Scotland was slender and healthy at 64 and said she lived by the addage: eat like a king for breakfast, like a prince for lunch, and a pauper for dinner. Sure worked for her!

    • This approach works best for me as well. I am that type of person who simply cannot go without a breakfast. I love an early and light dinner with nothing more to eat until breakfast.

      Best,

      John

  2. I have been doing the 5-2 diet for some years now, that’s 2 days fasting (just 600 calories) and I must say I feel good the next day. I have also lost 15kg (30lbs) in 2 years.
    There is just one problem, I sometimes get afib the day after and I don’t know why.
    My breakfast on the fast days starts with 1/3rd cup cooked rolled oats, 1 piece of thinly buttered toast and cup of tea.
    The other days is bacon and egg on toast plus one slice of toast and cup of tea or coffee.

    • Hi Colin,

      Interesting findings. Yes, the intermittent fasting diet really works well for many people with regards to weight loss.

      I suspect that the Afib component may be from your fasting days. Perhaps these fasting days put too much of a stress on your heart…

      Perhaps you could change up your fasting protocol. Some possibilities include an early dinner every night with nothing to eat after dinner. Alternatively, you could try increasing your calories on the fasting days to see if this helps the Afib.

      Of course, check in with your cardiologist as there may be something else going on that is triggering these Afib episodes…

      Best,

      John

  3. during the week, I have to eat breakfast or I feel hungry all day. The weekend, not so much. I like a couple of scrambled eggs and a 100 calorie whole wheat tortilla and an apple

  4. I am an intermittent faster, usually 16-18 hours a day, overnight until a late lunch. I feel much better since I started fasting. Leaner (not meaner!) and more energetic on the days that I fast. I even work out while fasting, and it doesn’t make any difference to my workouts at all. I high recommend intermittent fasting as a way to reset appetite, push autophagia for body “cleanup” and develop more thoughtful habits when you do eat. I do it for health benefits rather than weight loss, but I have lost a pounds over time. The best kind of weight loss!

    • Hi Becky,

      Thanks for reading and sharing! Intermittent fasting really does work for many people. Personally, about 12 hours a day is about as much as I can do each day…

      John

  5. Dear John,

    I totally agree with you that the standard American breakfast is not so healthy. I make my own yogurt using milk. I’m a breakfast eater and it is a yogurt fruit shake. The choice of fruit is seasonal. Usually with apple and banana… It not only gives me the energy but also helps clean up my GI system.

    Thanks!