Breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day, and recent research has reaffirmed its nutritional benefits. Evidence from various types of research conducted worldwide with different dietary and breakfast habits demonstrates that regular breakfast consumption is associated with several key outcomes.
Nutrient Intakes and Diet Quality
Breakfast is the first opportunity in the day to improve overall nutrient intake. Several studies have shown that those who consume breakfast on a daily basis had consistently higher intakes of many micronutrients, some of which have been identified as consistently lacking in U.S. diets, such as calcium, dietary fiber, iron, folate and vitamin B-12. Eating an adequate meal 1 - 2 hours after you wake up gives your body a jump-start at reaching its daily nutrient needs.
Weight Management and Metabolism
Habitual meal skipping is thought by many to help facilitate weight loss. However, a nutrient-dense breakfast has actually been associated with weight loss and weight maintenance in adults. Breakfast "breaks the fast" after a long night of sleep - it alerts your brain and wakes up your system, giving your metabolism the kick start that it needs to work throughout the day. Skipping breakfast sends the message to your body that it needs to keep conserving energy, which can slow down your metabolism, causing a decrease in the amount of calories you burn throughout the day.
In addition, while it may save you calories at the time, not eating breakfast in the morning can ultimately set you up for binging and overconsumption later in the day. By the time another opportunity to eat rolls around, breakfast-skippers are more likely to choose something high in fat and calories to satisfy their hunger cravings. Poor decisions at later meals, along with increased urges to snack throughout the day, can add back the calories you initially skipped and then some.
School breakfast participation has been linked with improvements in academic performance and psychosocial functioning and cognition in children and adolescents. Among the observed effects includes improved attention and behavior as well as reduced absenteeism and tardiness. These results were especially prominent in nutritionally vulnerable children. Likewise, in adults, daily breakfast consumption provides an energy boost, amplifying a positive mood right along with it.
Before we ring it in as the daily meal heavyweight, it is important to note that all breakfasts are not created equal. A cup of coffee sipped down on the way to work will not have the same nutrient density and benefits as a fruit and yogurt parfait. And a bowl of sugary cereal won't pack the same nutritional punch as a bowl of hearty oatmeal. So, in addition to simply aiming to eat something at breakfast, focus on consuming something that packs the fiber, protein and micronutrients needed to start your day out right.
The most common barriers that influence whether or not individuals consume breakfast are time and lack of hunger. To combat a lack of time, pre-prepare some grab-and-go items such as hard boiled eggs, low-fat or Greek yogurt cups, fresh fruit or pre-blended smoothies for a quick and easy solution to those hectic mornings. And for the times that you wake up without a ravenous appetite, make sure to keep easily accessible, nutrient-dense foods such as dried fruit, fiber-rich cereal bars or trail mix on hand to stave off hunger a little later in the morning.
While breakfast is just one component of an overall healthy eating pattern, the positive associations found with general health and well-being in adults, as well as children, indicates a need to elevate the importance of breakfast in our daily routines. Starting the morning off right not only ensures you avoid that midday slump, it also invigorates your body, giving you the energy and the nutrition you need to power through your day.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.