Busting Silly Headlines – "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"
Aah yes…quite possibly the most pervasive myth in the health and wellness space: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.
Some will argue that the term ‘breakfast’ just means the meal that ‘breaks your fast’, but for the purposes of this article, breakfast refers to the morning meal that’s eaten within the first couple of hours of waking up.
The idea that breakfast is necessary to achieve optimal health stems from an observational study that found that breakfast-eaters tended to weigh less than individuals that skipped breakfast. However, this was just an observational study, which by definition cannot conclude a causal relationship. Refer to my previous post Nutrition Tales – 4 Ways to Know Which Headlines to Trust, to learn more about how to spot good research versus the less-good ones!
There could be a whole host of other reasons why in that study, the participants that ate breakfast happened to weigh less; perhaps they just had other health-promoting habits, or were of greater socioeconomic status, or had regular 9-to-5 jobs (rather than night shifts, which have been shown to be associated with health problems).
Despite the fact that a causal relationship cannot be ascertained, people started rationalizing the observation by claiming that those who skip breakfast are so hungry by the time they do eat, that they end up eating a lot more than they would if they had just eaten breakfast in the first place. I must say, this truly is a solid hypothesis. So, let’s test it out, shall we?
Well, researchers already have. Experiments have been conducted to assess the caloric intake of breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. They found that, yes, those who skip breakfast do tend to compensate for the lack of morning meal by eating more during lunch; however, interestingly, this caloric compensation is incomplete. In other words, when looking at the whole day, breakfast skippers tend to eat less overall, possibly by up to 400 kilocalories.
There are some claims that eating breakfast will “kick-start” your metabolism; this likely refers to the thermic effect of food (which I described in my previous Busting Silly Headlines post, “Eat frequently to boost metabolism”), but this slight temporary spike in metabolic output is unlikely to overcome the even greater input of calories.
I do want to stress though that most of the research mentioned in this article has been done on sedentary, healthy adults. Growing children and those working in physically-demanding jobs will likely benefit from the energy boost of a hearty breakfast.
Herein lies the take-away: listen to your body.
Do you like eating in the morning? Great! There is no reason to stop if breakfast fuels you and makes you feel good. My point is simply that if you don’t like eating in the morning, rest assured that you are not harming your long-term health solely from not eating first thing in the morning.