The Breakfast Myth: Is Your Morning Meal the Most Important Meal?

May 12, 2019

Woman holding coffee cup
Christine Yu

Growing up, your parents probably told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and a key part of a healthy lifestyle. However, recent research calls into question breakfast's reputation as the healthiest meal.

Is breakfast important or is there a breakfast myth? Here's what the science says about your morning oatmeal and scrambled eggs, and if it's worthy of all the hype.

The Myth of Breakfast

According to news reports and TV commercials, eating first thing in the morning helps to keep hunger at bay and keeps you from overeating, revs your metabolism and boosts weight loss efforts.

And research seems to back up these claims. In fact, studies have shown a link between skipping your morning meal and a high body mass index. Other studies have found that eating breakfast is associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease among men.

But if you take a closer look at the research findings, the benefits are not so straightforward. Many of these studies are observational studies that compared breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters. Based on the data, scientists found an association between the study subjects and a specific outcome like heart disease.

However, there are many other factors and characteristics that may have influenced the health differences between breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters, such as the amount of physical activity participants engaged in, or whether or not they smoked. Since they were not randomized controlled trials, scientists cannot definitively say that eating — or not eating — in the morning directly caused those specific outcomes.

Plus, according to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, many of the studies on breakfast were actually funded by cereal companies, which may skew the research findings in favor of breakfast.

More recently, a study in the BMJ, called into question a major breakfast myth. Researchers looked at 13 previously published randomized controlled trials that examined the relationship between breakfast and weight loss. What they found was that there was evidence that eating first thing in the morning promotes weight loss. In fact, they found that those breakfast eaters ate 260 more calories a day and weighed a pound more compared to those who skipped breakfast.

It's Not When You Eat but What You Eat

So, is breakfast important? Instead of focusing on when you eat your first meal of the day, experts says that you should focus more on what (and how much) you eat. After all, many breakfast staples— pancakes, pastries, cereal and granola — aren't exactly the picture of healthy eating. The quantity and quality of your food may have a bigger impact on your health.

Whether you choose to eat first thing in the morning or not really depends. If you wake up starving, head to the kitchen and fill your plate with nutrient-rich foods like eggs, fiber-rich oatmeal and grains and fruit. If you're not hungry first thing in the morning, that's fine, too. Wait until later in the day when you start to feel hungry.

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