Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day

food - scrambled eggRemember the saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” To some, it just doesn’t make sense. Humans are, after all, hunter-gathers by trade and our bodies are designed to deal with scarcity. We can get up and function right away without eating. So why should skipping breakfast matter?

Eating shortly after waking up, kick starts your body’s metabolism, and gets it running for the day. If you don’t eat in the morning, your body’s metabolism actually slows down, in an attempt to save calories, stored in the body for vital tasks. This worked really well for hunter-gather man but doesn’t work so well for today’s drive-to-the-office-sit-in-a-chair man or woman.

Unfortunately, skipping breakfast has become increasingly common in adults and adolescents in the United States. A recent survey found that 31 million Americans, or about 10% of the U.S. population, do not eat breakfast. Males ages 18-34 are most likely to skip breakfast (28%) and females ages 55 and older were the most likely to eat a morning meal (10%). Teenagers are more likely to not eat breakfast than younger children.

People cite many reasons for skipping breakfast: some just don’t like to eat in the morning, others think they’ll shave off calories if they don’t eat, many find mornings too chaotic to squeeze in preparing and eating a meal. “It’s not as much fun as going out with friends for lunch or dinner. It’s a chore. Breakfast is a meal people are ready to dump” says David Heber, director of UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. food - Healthy Breakfast1

But, breakfast may help control Americans’ problems with overweight and obesity as well as improve cognitive functions and reduce of fatigue.

Multiple studies show that breakfast eaters tend to have a lower Body Mass Index than breakfast skippers. Skipping breakfast is strongly linked to the development of obesity. Studies show that overweight and obese children, adolescents, and adults are less likely to eat breakfast than their thinner peers.

The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey investigated the relationship between BMI and breakfast consumption by looking at breakfast type, total daily energy intake, and BMI. The study echoed the futility of skipping breakfast as a weight loss technique. The study also showed that individuals who regularly skipped breakfast had 4.5 times the risk of obesity as those who consumed breakfast regularly.

According to research, skipping meals, especially breakfast, can make weight control more difficult. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more food than usual at the next meal or nibble on high-calorie snacks when they get hungry. Several studies suggest that people gain weight when they eat fewer, larger meals than when they eat the same number of calories in smaller, more frequent meals.

People who opt out of breakfast often consume more of their calories in the evening, while people with normal weight distribute their calorie intake more evenly throughout the day. Late night eating results in stored glycogen, and unless it’s used, it will be stored as fat causing weight gain.

Breakfast skipping has also been linked to poorer eating habits including larger meal portions, impulsive snacking, a higher intake of fat, and minimal fruit consumption. A good breakfast provides one-fourth to one-third of the day’s energy and nutrient needs. Eating a well-balanced breakfast improves intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially iron and vitamin C; these nutrients are essential in a balanced diet.

The beneficial effects of consuming breakfast are also apparent in the adolescent population. Adolescents who consume breakfast also have a lower BMI than their counterparts. The effect of breakfast consumption also extends into the classroom. Academic performance, problem solving skills, school attendance, and mood are all affected by breakfast consumption. Studies show that kids who skip breakfast are tardy and/or absent from school more often than children who eat breakfast on a regular basis.

Food - Breakfast - whole grain cereal fruit and nutsHow to Break Your Fast

Resist the temptation to grab a doughnut, muffin or other sugary start to the day. These foods offer calories without many essential nutrients. High sugar foods and drinks may also cause your energy to soar briefly before it falls to lower levels. You may feel more drained and hungry, even if you ate breakfast.

If you choose healthy, slow-burning foods, like whole grains and fruits, you should be able to control your appetite until midday. Stock your pantry with foods like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, yogurt, nuts and fresh or dried fruit to avoid temptation.

Breakfast is also a great way to get a jump on your fruit or veggie consumption. Here are some easy ways to add fruits and vegetables to your breakfast:

Start the day with a fruit smoothie. A few handfuls of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries added to your smoothie can add loads of antioxidants to your diet. Add a banana and you’ve nailed two servings of fruit and you haven’t even made it out the door!

  • A glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
  • A handful of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or banana are a great addition to your morning cereal. Dried apricots, raisins, cranberries, currents, dates or figs are also a tasty addition.
  • Onions, bell peppers, mushrooms or tomatoes to your eggs whether scrambled or in an omelet.
  • Top your eggs with fresh tomato salsa
  • A cup of berries added to your favorite pancake or waffle recipe
  • Mix a quick fruit salad – pick two or three fresh fruits and mix them together with a small handful of nuts for a high powered start to your day.
  • A half a grapefruit
  • A serving of fresh melon or cantaloupe
  • A banana

Here are a few other options:

  • A plain yogurt parfait layered with fresh fruit and cereal, nuts or raisins
  • Plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit in a blender for a vitamin-rich smoothie
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices
  • Oatmeal or whole grain cold cereal with raisins or fresh fruit
  • Fish, such as leftover salmon, on a whole grain bagel with reduced or nonfat cream cheese
  • Homemade bran or fruit and nut muffins, made on the weekend and frozen.

Best and Worst Fast Food Breakfasts

Breakfast makes it easier to get and stay in a good mood throughout the day by providing the energy to help you get through the regular tasks of your day. A healthy meal in the morning can also help to regulate your blood sugar levels through lunch time, which plays a vital role in your mood.

The bottom line: People who eat breakfast are 12.3% healthier throughout the day than those who don’t, and people who don’t eat breakfast eat 6.8% more food throughout the day. With the benefits of decreased BMI, reduced fatigue, and improved concentration, we should all eat our oatmeal to start the day!


Cho, S., Dietrich, M., Brown, C, et al. The Effect of Breakfast Type on Total Daily Energy Intake and Body Mass Index: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2003; 22(4): 296-302.

Ma, Y., Bertone, E., Staneck, EJ., et al. Association between Eating Patterns and Obesity in a Free-living US Adult Population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2003; 158(1): 85-92.

Mota, J., Fidalgo, F., Silva R., et al. Relationships Between Physical Activity, Obesity and Meal Frequency in Adolescents. Annals of Human Biology, 2008; 35(1): 1-10.

Nicklas, TA., Baranowski, T., Cullen, KW., et al. Eating Patterns, Dietary Quality and Obesity. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2001; 20(6), 599-608.

Pollitt, E., Lewis, NL., Garzat, C., et al. Fasting and Cognitive Function. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 1982; 17(2): 169-174

Rampersaud, GC., Pereira, MA., Girard, BL. Et al. Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight, and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2005; 105: 743-760.

Tanaka, M., Mizuno, K., Fukuda, S., et al. Relationships Between Dietary Habits and the Prevalence of Fatigue in Medical Students. Nutrition, 2008; 24: 985-989.

Vaisman N, Voet H, Akivis A, Vakil E. Effect of breakfast timing on the cognitive functions of elementary school students. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 1996;150:1089-1092.