Is breakfast everything we were told it was growing up?
Once regarded as gospel, questions now swirl around whether or not breakfast truly is the “most important meal of the day”.
I’m going to attempt to answer that question combining my own personal views, clinical insights from my practice and, of course, research data.
Today’s blog, which may seem simplistic on the surface, will aim to address one of the most frequent queries I receive from clients.
And hey, if they still have questions about it, it means you probably do to!
Let’s get started.
The Breakfast Blues
With the emergence of the popularity of intermittent fasting, which even I admit dabbling in from time to time, the popularity and perception of breakfast from the perspective of an otherwise healthy adult may not be what it once was.
Before we go any further though, let’s just lay it out there that breakfast eating has not been proven to be an effective strategy for losing weight.
That sentiment is echoed in a recent January 2019 publication out of the British Medical Journal.
In my view, the real question regarding breakfast is not whether it is THE most important meal of the but rather if it is YOUR most important meal of the day.
What do I mean by that?
Here are some signs that breakfast IS your most important meal of the day:
1. Mornings are better for you (mood wise, performance wise) when you eat a healthy breakfast
2. You might describe breakfast as your favourite or healthiest meal of the day
3. When you skip breakfast, you don’t feel as good as when you eat it ( you are hungry in the morning)
4. You eat certain foods at breakfast that you would not eat at other times during the day**
If the answer to any or all of these questions is a resounding YES…. does anything else really matter?
In regards to point 3 specifically, one of the issues with skipping breakfast is risking nutrient inadequacy in some of the nutrients that tend to be commonly available at breakfast.
Those who don’t eat breakfast, for example, are more likely to have lower levels of intake of magnesium and vitamin A.
Those who do not opt for cereal specifically at breakfast, which is so commonly consumed with some form of milk or fortified milk alternative, were more likely to have lower total intakes of fibre, calcium and vitamin D.
This is supported by A 2018 UK breakfast study from the Nutrients journal found that people’s breakfasts tended to be high in vitamin A, calcium, iron and magnesium.
These nutrients matter because some Canadians fall short in them, and you may be one of them.
Here are some signs that breakfast IS NOT your most important meal of the day:
1. There is no discernible difference in the quality of your morning whether you do or do not eat breakfast
2. You are confident that you get your “breakfast nutrients” elsewhere and are confident that the quality of your diet remains unimpaired by lack of a breakfast meal
3. You are not particularly hungry in the morning or find eating breakfast burdensome and would rather sleep ( which we all need more of!)
Now look, don’t get me wrong it is not necessarily that straightforward for the average person to discern that any of the 3 of these points above are true or false.
A dietitian can obviously help with that, but these are the types of questions that I work through with my clients when I try to help them answer whether or not eating breakfast is optimal for them.
What Makes A “Healthy” Breakfast?
A nutrient dense and satisfying breakfast can come in many shapes, sizes and involve vastly different preparation times ( because yes, that is relevant).
When I personally think of breakfast as it relates to my clients who want my feedback on it I generally break it down into 4 components.
#1 Fruit/Veggie: Is there some sort of fruit or vegetable present?
#2 “Healthy Fat”: Although I hate to use the word, is there something along the lines of some form of nut, seed, nut or seed butter, or avocado present?
#3 Protein: Is there a protein source such as soy milk, tofu, eggs or some form of dairy present?
#4 Whole Grain: Is there some form of oatmeal, high fibre cereal or whole grain bread present?
In my book a truly healthy, balanced breakfast would check at least two, if not 3-4 of these boxes.
The Canadian Diabetes Association identifies a number of risk factors for type 2 diabetes that may be related to your diet including elevated blood lipids ( cholesterol, triglycerides) and blood pressure, among a host of others that are unrelated to diet such as age, ethnicity and so on.
Although skipping breakfast isn’t among them, I could not help but notice a trend in the literature that breakfast skipping, in multiple observational studies(1,2,3), was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The reason for this is not abundantly clear, but for now it is something that those with multiple diabetes risk factors may want to be wary of, and certainly a topic of study warranting further exploration.
Although you are probably the one who will be able to best answer how breakfast, or lack there of, impacts your focus at work, some evidence does appear to suggest that those who eat breakfast may enjoy small cognitive advantages (such as improved memory).
I’ve certainly given you some food for thought ( pun intended) when it comes to the importance of breakfast.
I stand by my statement that, what matters most, is whether or not breakfast is YOUR most important meal of the day, rather THE most important meal of the day.
In the face of a growing body of research around meal timing ( particularly intermittent fasting) we certainly cannot dismiss it as irrelevant, but the foods you choose to eat, rather than when you choose to eat them, will almost always be the ultimate determinant of your physiological health
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH