Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day?
I grew up on a small farm in southeastern South Dakota. One of my earliest memories was eating a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs at the Stockyards Cafe in Sioux Falls. My brothers, sisters, and I begged to ride with Dad on those trips delivering cattle. Other breakfast traditions included picnics at Newton Hills State Park. Every Memorial Day we’d get together with cousins and family for eggs and bacon made over an open fire. Every 4th of July we’d share breakfast with friends from nearby farms. On our birthdays, Mom would fix our favorite food before we’d ride our bikes to school. Breakfast became my favorite meal of the day!
Fun times! And supported by the belief that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. We thought eating breakfast would reduce hunger, increase metabolic rate, and improve weight.
Skipping breakfast may not increase level of hunger
One of my adventures on the farm, was camping out in our grove. I packed a breakfast and remember feeling hungry as I unrolled the sleeping bag. I resisted eating and went straight to sleep. The next morning I was surprised that I didn’t feel hungry. I wondered why my hunger wasn’t greater than the night before. Could it be that hunger doesn’t necessarily correlate with time between meals? Proponents of fasting and time-restricted eating would agree.
Skipping breakfast may increase metabolic rate
Skipping meals may increase metabolic rate as is suggested by an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017 (Alessa Nas, et al). In a cross-over trial, participants switched between eating three meals a day, skipping breakfast, and skipping dinner. When skipping breakfast, fat oxidation increased and total energy expenditure increase when skipping either meal.
Skipping breakfast may not increase weight gain
Contrary to repeated recommendations to eat breakfast to prevent weight gain, one study shows that eating or skipping breakfast did not affect weight. A 16-week trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014 (Emily J Dhurandhar, et al) showed no difference between eaters and skippers. And regardless of weight gain or loss, metabolic health may be improved. Insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and oxidative stress were improved with intermittent fasting in weight-stable men (Cell Metabolism, 2018, Elizabeth Sutton, et al).
More research needed–but why wait?
More studies can help us understand the consequences of eating or skipping breakfast. Unfortunately, most studies do not include low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets. What about your health? By measuring your own blood sugars, weight, blood pressure, and appetite, you can get an idea of what’s good for you.
Cereals had their origin in the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the mid to late 1800s. Church leader Ellen White proselytized against eating meat, blaming it for an increased sexual drive. She influenced Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who believed cereals would improve health and keep people from masturbating. The origin of phrase, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” may have come from the cereal makers, C. W. Post and Will Kellogg early in the 1900s or from a 1945 Grape Nuts ad campaign. Not exactly science!
Insulin resistance is high in the morning, due to the dawn effect. It’s the increased cortisol levels that get us up and running. With that in mind, glucose and insulin levels will spike less with a low carbohydrate, ketogenic meal.