Breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day, but is skipping this morning meal really detrimental to health? Newer research suggests this may not be as bad as many of us believe. In this Honest Nutrition feature, we take an in-depth look at breakfast and whether skipping it is really harmful.
Breakfast literally means “to break the fast.” It is the first meal of the day after a stretch of not eating overnight.
Breakfast earned its title as the most important meal of the day back in the 1960s after American nutritionist Adelle Davis suggested that to keep fit and avoid obesity, one should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
Though around 15% of people in the United States regularly skip breakfast, many still believe it to be the most important meal of the day. Breakfast provides the body with important nutrients, to start the day feeling energized and nourished. Many also believe that it can promote weight loss.
But is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
As with most things in nutrition, the answer is complex. While some research suggests that skipping breakfast is not harmful, other research suggests otherwise.
Eating regular meals and snacks, including breakfast, allows for more opportunities throughout the day to give the body the energy and nutrients it needs to function optimally.
However, as long as a person can fit their nutrients in during other meals, breakfast may not be the most critical meal of the day.
Here is what the science says.
Evidence in support of eating breakfast
Most of the claimed benefits of eating breakfast are primarily derived from observational studies, which cannot prove cause and effect.
For example, one 2021 systematic reviewTrusted Source of 14 observational studies found that those who eat breakfast seven times per week have a reduced risk for:
high blood pressure
elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Again, this particular group of studies can only suggest that those who eat breakfast are more likely to have a reduced risk for the cardiovascular and metabolic diseases mentioned above. It cannot prove that breakfast is what is causing it.
However, an analysis of data on over 30,000 North Americans shows that people who skip breakfast may miss out on important nutrients.
The most common nutrients those who skipped breakfast fell short on include:
vitamins B1, B2, B3
What is more, one randomized control trial published in 2017 that included 18 participants with type 2 diabetes, and 18 healthy participants found that skipping breakfast caused disrupted circadian rhythmsTrusted Source in both groups.
Those who skipped breakfast also experienced larger spikes in blood glucose levels after eating. The authors of the study thus suggested that eating breakfast is vital for keeping our internal clock running on time.
Does skipping breakfast cause weight gain?
Although many people report increased feelings of satiety after starting their day off with breakfast, studiesTrusted Source suggest that those who omit or consume breakfast both end up with nearly identical total daily calorie intakes.
Another randomized control trialTrusted Source carried out over 4 months tested the effectiveness of a recommendation to eat or skip breakfast on weight loss in 309 adults with overweight or obesity trying to lose weight in a free-living setting.
At the end of the study, researchers concluded that eating breakfast did not have any significant impact on weight loss compared with not eating breakfast.
According to a 2019 review of 13 randomized control trials published in The BMJTrusted Source, the addition of breakfast may not be a good weight loss strategy. Researchers further added that caution should be used when recommending breakfast for weight loss because it may actually have the opposite effect.
However, it is important to note that this review did have limitations. The types of foods consumed were not included, and the studies were not very long in duration. Additionally, researchers cited the need for additional studies to determine the long-term effects of skipping breakfast.
Interestingly, another study found that skipping breakfast may actually lower total daily calorie intake by 252 calories. Researchers did note, however, that it decreased the overall diet quality when any meals were skipped.
At this time, there does not appear to be any strong evidence that ties breakfast intake to weight gain.
Are people who eat breakfast healthier?
According to one 2018 observational studyTrusted Source, those who frequently eat breakfast often pay more attention to their overall nutrient intake, regularly participate in physical activity, and adequately manage stress.
Conversely, those who skip breakfast tend to have unhealthier lifestyle habits such as frequent smoking and drinking. They also tend to have diets higher in fat, cholesterol, and calories than habitual breakfast eaters.
These findings suggest that lifestyle habits may contribute to the overall health status of breakfast eaters, not eating breakfast.