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Breakfast: To Eat or Not To Eat?

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healthy breakfast

We have all heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But is that true and what evidence supports it? It has long been speculated that those who eat breakfast are more likely to enjoy favorable health. However, studies looking directly at breakfast as a cause or effect of improved health have only begun to emerge. Being a habitual breakfast eater or breakfast skipper is a personal decision dependent on multiple factors. Let’s look at the research available to help you make healthy breakfast choices.

Weight loss
As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun─and this includes diets. Skipping breakfast is a common practice used for weight loss which has most recently found revival in intermittent fasting. Studies evaluating skipping breakfast versus eating three square meals a day have shown either no difference in weight loss or a small weight reduction of only about one pound. While that may sound favorable, the studies also showed the source of weight loss to be lean body mass instead of fat. Lean body mass includes all tissues other than fat including bone and muscle.

When it comes to weight loss, minimizing the loss of lean muscle mass helps preserve one’s metabolic rate and protects against weight regain. It is also worth noting that these studies were short in duration with most ranging 4-12 weeks. The effectiveness of skipping breakfast for long-term weight loss remains unknown and the statistics on weight regain are far from encouraging. Up to 95% of individuals who use any method of dieting regain lost body weight within three years of their initial weight loss, regardless of whether they chose to skip or eat breakfast. This highlights the importance of finding a sustainable approach for long-term weight loss success.

Importance of meal content
A limited number of studies exist regarding blood work as it relates to skipping breakfast. These studies should be cautiously interpreted as a limited number of subjects were used and they lack consistency in what the subjects ate. Comparing the outcomes of these studies is difficult and increases the possibility of their findings being random rather than concrete.

Three studies found that LDL cholesterol (or bad cholesterol) levels significantly increased in those who chose to skip breakfast. Elevated LDL cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. While this variance likely reflects differences in specific food choices between groups studied, it emphasizes the importance of meal content. For example, those who skipped breakfast often consumed meals higher in fat. Since the type of fat consumed is directly correlated to raising or lower cholesterol, the outcome may have been different if the fats consumed were from healthy sources.

Fuel for your body
It’s important to remember calories should not be the main focus—nutrients also matter! Whenever a meal is skipped it is increasingly important for the remaining meals to be nutritionally optimized to properly fuel the body. Long-term prospective studies indicate increased fiber and nutrient content of breakfast is protective against weight gain. Other preliminary research indicates skipping dinner as opposed to skipping breakfast is more favorable in terms of reducing overall calorie intake. Studies looking at time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting have begun to demonstrate superior benefit may be found by eating most calories during daylight hours as opposed to nighttime hours. Interestingly, metabolism was not affected by either eating or skipping breakfast.

For appetite control
Breakfast can be used as a tool to close nutritional gaps and increase nutrient density of one’s overall diet. Improve your appetite control by following a few simple guidelines when eating breakfast:

  • Eat at least 30 grams of protein at breakfast. Greek or Icelandic yogurts, milk, cottage cheese, eggs and egg whites, nut butters, seeds, tofu and beans or legumes are great food sources to ensure you consume the proper amount of protein.
  • Opt for solids over liquids. Try a Greek yogurt topped with berries and high-protein granola.
  • Aim for at least 350 calories. Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionists can provide a list of breakfast ideas to meet specific calorie goals, customized with your preferences.

Ultimately eating breakfast is a healthy habit presenting you with an opportunity to improve your overall health. By incorporating a healthy breakfast into your daily routine you can positively impact the quality of your overall diet and reduce your risk of chronic disease.

For healthy breakfast recipe ideas visit our Health Tips page.

To schedule a one-on-one nutrition consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Gillian White, RDN, LD, CNSD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.