Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

November 12, 2018 Providence Health Team

Eating breakfast every day is important.

People who skip breakfast tend to have higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, weigh more, and experience more metabolic problems.

A healthy breakfast consists of a lean protein, whole grain, and fruit or vegetable.

Breakfast is in the news again, and people are confused. Is it important, or isn’t it?

With nearly 25% of Americans skipping breakfast each day, and proponents of one type of intermittent fasting challenging the long-held belief that breakfast is the most important meal, it’s time to take another look at the health benefits (if any!) of eating breakfast.

To help make sense of it all, we turned to Jill McCarty, LD, RDN, an outpatient dietitian with Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon — who started her morning out with Greek yogurt, granola, fruit, and a latte.

Is breakfast important?

Absolutely.

“Most of our research shows that having breakfast each day is really important,” says McCarty. “People who eat breakfast each day tend to be lower weight, and they tend to meet the recommendations for fruits and vegetables each day. Children and teens who eat breakfast perform better in school and have better behavior.”

Many breakfast skippers claim they’re not hungry, they’re too busy, or they just don’t feel like eating in the morning. But according to the American Heart Association, breakfast skippers are more likely to have weight issues and diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol, use tobacco, not exercise regularly, not get recommended amounts of important nutrients, and eat more calories and added sugars the rest of the day.

If you think skipping breakfast will save you some calories and help you lose weight, you’re probably wrong. McCarty explains, “If we skip a meal, we become overly hungry and tend to overeat at our next meal. Including breakfast helps keep your appetite in control for the day.”

Exercise enthusiasts have an added incentive to eat a morning meal before hitting the gym, “Studies have shown that breakfast before exercise increases the rate our body burns calories,” says McCarty. “So, don’t skip a meal before exercising, and watch out for overeating and drinking after a big sporting event.”

Can you describe a healthy breakfast?

Ideally, breakfast should consist of a lean protein, whole grain, and a serving of fruit or vegetables.

“Sometimes we are only including carbohydrates at breakfast,” McCarty says.  “The plate method is a great way to plan meals.”

In general, planning ahead can help you make healthy decisions when it comes to what you eat; this is also something that working one-on-one with a dietitian can really help with.

If you do indulge in an occasional unhealthy breakfast item, such as a donut (or two?!), or a pile of syrup-laden pancakes, McCarty suggests eating these items alongside the recommended protein, whole grain, and fruit or vegetable. Doing so will help keep your blood sugar under better control.

Some healthy breakfast options include:

  • Fruit smoothie to-go: fruit, protein (Greek yogurt, milk, or protein powder)
  • Scrambled eggs, whole grain toast, piece of fruit
  • Whole grain piece of toast with nut butter, and piece of fruit
  • Greek yogurt with granola and some fruit
  • Cooked oats with flax seeds and berries, with a boiled egg (try this quick-cooking oatmeal recipe, or overnight oats)
  • High fiber, low sugar cereal with milk or Greek yogurt, and fruit

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

“I think breakfast is an important meal,” says McCarty. “With that said, regular meals in general have been shown to help with keeping our weight down, making healthy food choices and getting adequate amounts of all the nutrients and dietary fiber.”

Additional tips:

  • We generally choose healthier foods in the morning, so eat up early!
  • Intermittent fasting is not generally recommended; it is not based on solid science and poses risks in some conditions. If you are interested in intermittent fasting, see the latest research.
  • If you go more than four or five hours between meals (i.e., lunch and dinner), plan a healthy snack.

Bottom line: Breakfast is important for our long-term health, but what’s even more important is what you choose to eat. Select whole, healthy foods and eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day.

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For additional breakfast ideas, check out:

Get some healthy breakfast inspiration from around the world

Start school right with these healthy breakfasts

9 healthy homemade breakfasts that won’t break the bank

Make small changes: Breakfast

Power up with breakfast

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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