Should you eat breakfast?
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Should you eat breakfast?

Should you eat breakfast? This continues to be a controversial topic when it comes to health and nutrition. Although every person’s biology is different, it seems that the majority of people would benefit from not skipping the first meal of the day.

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day?

Conspiracy theorists and skeptics tend to be of the opinion that breakfast was proclaimed “the most important meal of the day” as a marketing strategy to increase the food industry’s profits. However, there has been some scientific evidence to suggest that breakfast is indeed associated with weight loss and improved body composition (1).

Benefits of eating breakfast

Satiety and hunger

Eating breakfast increases satiety, i.e. reduces hunger. This has been also measured through levels of hormones such as ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and peptide YY (PYY) (2).

Energy expenditure

Eating breakfast can potentially increase non exercise activity thermogenesis (2, 3), i.e. energy burnt without exercising. This is particularly true for higher protein breakfasts (3). This is not proven but plausible since it takes energy to digest food.

Circadian rhythms

Nutrient intake (i.e. eating meals) is a powerful regulator of circadian rhythms. These are internal clocks that tell our cells and organs when it’s time to be awake (active) or asleep (in repair mode). Skipping breakfast can disrupt circadian rhythms, affecting metabolic processes, sleep, etc., and potentially leading chronic conditions (2).

Insulin sensitivity

Skipping breakfast can result in reduced insulin sensitivity (i.e. increased insulin resistance) later in the day, which can be detrimental to metabolic health (3).

Other benefits

In general, meals that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrate tend to improve blood lipids and blood pressure (3), which also applies to breakfast.

Macros make a difference

Protein

Breakfasts containing more protein tend to increase fullness more than skipping breakfast. This is especially true when the breakfast meal contains at least 30 grams of protein (2).

Moreover, there is some evidence that a higher protein breakfast can help with weight management. This seems to be the case when compared with habitually skipping breakfast or eating a lower protein breakfast (1).

Fibre

Dietary fibre is known for its effect on satiety. Therefore, it is no suprise that fibre-rich breakfasts can be beneficial for satiety, weight control and improved body composition (1).

Besides being beneficial for gut health, dietary fibre displaces rapidly available (refined and/or high glycaemic index) carbohydrate and some can slow down carbohydrate absorption. This is true for fibre from oats, barley and rye which are fermentable in the colon, as well as viscous fibres such as guar gum, pectin, psyllium and β-glucan. The combined effect is a reduction in post-meal blood sugar spikes, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes (3).

Fat

Higher fat breakfasts seem to be beneficial for post-meal blood sugar levels (3) potentially because fat lowers the glycaemic index of carbohydrate-containing meals. It is important to note that unsaturated fats are generally better for individuals with blood lipid dysregulation.

Liquid vs solid

Liquid meals are less satiating than solid or mixed meals (2). This is because a liquid meal is easier to digest and absorb as it bypasses some of the mechanical steps involved in digestion. People who are looking to lose weight and/or improve body composition should try to consume a solid meal instead of a juice, smoothie or highly processed breakfast drink.

Size matters

Large breakfasts increase satiety and may result in greater weight loss. Moreover, consuming a larger proportion of energy earlier in the day (i.e. a bigger breakfast and smaller dinner) seems to be beneficial for weight control as it increases satiety (1, 2). In people with diabetes, following this meal pattern is also beneficial for reducing post-meal blood sugar levels (3). Sounds like the old saying “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper” was right on the money.

Should you eat breakfast?

While the final answer to the question “Should you eat breakfast?” depends on your individual makeup and circumstances, it seems that consuming a substantial breakfast that contains adequate protein and dietary fibre can be beneficial for satiety, insulin sensitivity, weight management and body composition.

For ideas and recipes that meet the above criteria check out the links below:

It also seems that eating a larger meal earlier in the day is more beneficial than having it at dinnertime. What this means for people practising time-restricted feeding (incorrectly known as intermittent fasting) is that having the first meal early in the morning and finishing the last meal in the afternoon is better than skipping breakfast and eating until late at night.

References

  1. Leidy HJ, Gwin JA, Roenfeldt CA, Zino AZ, Shafer RS. Evaluating the Intervention-Based Evidence Surrounding the Causal Role of Breakfast on Markers of Weight Management, with Specific Focus on Breakfast Composition and Size. Adv Nutr. 2016 May;7(3):563S-75S.
  2. Gwin JA, Leidy HJ. A Review of the Evidence Surrounding the Effects of Breakfast Consumption on Mechanisms of Weight Management. Adv Nutr. 2018 Nov;9(6):717–25.
  3. Maki KC, Phillips-Eakley AK, Smith KN. The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate Metabolism. Adv Nutr. 2016 May;7(3):613S-21S.

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