What’s the first thing you eat in the morning? Does it matter? Emily answers a reader question on why breakfast is often credited with being the most important meal of the day. It may not be as clear-cut as you think…
ASK EMILY: Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
Breakfast CAN be an important start to your day, but there are caveats and I will explain.
I wish there was one right answer; a simple yes or no would make food choices so much easier. Unfortunately, answers to many of our nutrition questions aren’t straightforward.
That’s because conducting high quality, quantitative, nutrition-related research studies is challenging. Proving causation can be tricky due to human variables like genetics, diet, exercise, health history, age, and gender to name a few.
In terms of weight loss, research has not been able to prove that eating breakfast plays a pivotal role in this area.
As long as calorie input and expenditure are consistent, the timing of meals and snacks doesn’t make a significant impact on weight change.
In my opinion there are other important factors to consider with this question. Here are some key points to help you decide for yourself if breakfast plays an important role in your day.
Eating breakfast may increase your awareness of hunger/fullness feelings throughout the day. If you skip breakfast, you may become famished, at which point all you can think about is food.
You are more likely to make hasty food choices and overeat at your next meal.
To increase satiety, choose something that appeals to your senses. Consider foods with protein and fat because they take longer to digest and will lengthen satiety.
Try Ann’s recipe for POPEYE’S BAKED EGGS for a fulfilling start to your day. Adding a slice of toast can provide some quick energy from carbohydrate.
If you have a meeting, class, or anything you need to be sharp for, it’s probably a good idea to jumpstart your brain beforehand. I tell my son its like putting gas in a car to get it started. Without our fuel we can’t get moving!
Remember, your mind and body have been fasting since the night before and need fuel to function optimally.
Are you hungry? How hungry are you? By honoring these cues, you give your body what it’s asking for.
It may be different from day to day. If the thought of food in the morning makes you queasy, stash something in your bag before you head out the door. A bar, fruit, nuts, or hard-boiled egg can tide you over until your next meal.
You could also try Ann’s recipe for MAKE AHEAD SMOOTHIE PACKS, where a mix of protein and fat creates a nutrient-dense meal substitute, no cooking necessary.
Are you planning a morning workout? Training for an event? If so, your intake needs may vary. Consider what time you workout in relationship to eating, and include carbohydrates and protein to help build/repair muscle.
See Ann’s recipe for a perfect combination of these fuels in the APPLE PEANUT BUTTER DELIGHTS. I’ve discovered that they pair nicely with an iced latte!
Do you have a medical condition that calls attention to and heightens your sensitivity to eating and fasting? If so, you may need to eat something in the morning to stay healthy and safe.
See Ann’s recipe for MAKE-AHEAD SAVORY BREAKFAST BOWLS. They maximize variety and allow for flexibility like swapping out starchy for non-starchy vegetables (potatoes for mushrooms, as an example).
I like breakfast and choose different things all the time, depending on my mood.
This could be anything from a small meal like a yogurt or something more filling like egg and cheese on toast. Coffee always.
This morning I had breakfast at a local deli and couldn’t pass up the toasted sesame bagel with veggie cream cheese, 3 slices of ripe tomato, sprinkled with salt and pepper. YUM. Whatever your pleasure, enjoy it.
A note to parents of little ones with unpredictable appetites:
You are not alone. My 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter are hard at work from the moment they get up.
I remind them they need to take in energy to play their best. Their bodies have been growing overnight and need food to replenish.
There’s a fine line between encouraging them to eat and demanding they eat. My goal is to make mealtimes enjoyable, and avoid the food battles. When we have challenging days, I remind myself of this goal.
Sometimes they eat double portions, sometimes just a few bites. Their little bodies are incredibly adept at telling them what they need, and for the most part, I try to trust that process.
To mix things up, and get them excited to try something new, the aroma of Ann’s HOMEMADE SAUSAGE PATTIES may remind the kiddos of how hungry they are! They are also perfect for little hands－as evidenced by this recent photo from my family’s breakfast table!
Regardless of what you choose to eat and when, this is hopefully a good reminder to listen to our bodies more, trust what our signals are saying.
Ultimately, it’s up to you what role breakfast plays in your world. There’s no right answer!
We’re very excited to launch this “Ask Emily” column and invite you, the reader, to engage more deeply into the nutritional aspects of the blog. All food and nutrition-related questions are welcome. Some will be answered through my column, but I will reply to everyone individually. Click email@example.com to email me directly.
Academy on Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. “How effective (in terms of client adherence and weight loss and maintenance) is eating breakfast?” Accessed 19 August 2020: https://www.andeal.org/topic.cfm?cat=2884&evidence_summary_id=250228&highlight=breakfast&home=1