Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
It’s common to be told that we must eat breakfast to “kick start our metabolism” or otherwise bring goodness to our diet and eating habits. But do these messages stand up to scrutiny? Can you skip breakfast and still get the nutrition you need for the day?
Breakfast habits vary hugely culturally. I recall from my work travels being offered huge buffets in Scandinavia, noodles in Malaysia, eggs and avocado in Australia, but little more than a cappuccino and a cigarette in Italy! And breakfast in the UK is not so established. In pre-Victorian times, you had to have servants to eat well right after you woke up, as there was no refrigeration to keep that milk fresh and sausages ready for frying.
So today’s breakfast habits are quire new, and vary by geography, so it seems unlikely that loading up on calories on rising is a health necessity. There has been research carried out on the impact of missing the early morning meal, or skipping meals in general. An analysis published in 2019 showed that there was no evidence that skipping breakfast, or meals in general, led to weight gain or a lowering of metabolic rate. There have been studies that pointed toward a link between missing breakfast and obesity, but these fail to take into account the bias that those who miss breakfast are more likely to have a lower income and the consequent tendency to have poorer health outcomes.
So what’s behind this push towards making breakfast so important? For me the finger of suspicion points towards the food industry, and cereal manufacturers in particular. They have most to lose if breakfast loses its (rise and) shine.
The NHS nutrition guidelines written by Public Health England do still include the recommendation not to skip breakfast, but is it ok to miss this early morning meal? I would say, yes, of course. Eat breakfast if you’re hungry, and if it works for you. I really like a big breakfast – eggs, wholewheat cereal and fruit is my typical meal. That’s this morning’s bowl of goodness in the picture. And I get really grumpy if I miss it. I wake up hungry! My partner on the other hand skips the meal altogether with no ill effects. Try different approaches for a week or so if you’re curious and are questioning your breakfast habits. So long as you get the right amount and type of nutrition during the day, the number, size and timing of meals is very much a personal preference.