“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. This slogan was invented in the 19th century by John H. Kellogg to sell his new breakfast cereal. He also thought that eating cereals would help you stop masturbating (not kidding, check it!).
So now that we have the Kellogg’s marketing strategy out of the way, can we do some science and find out if we should really have breakfast or not?
There are two main reasons why it is recommended in the mainstream media to have breakfast:
1 - Skipping breakfast makes you overeat later during the day.
2 - Skipping breakfast lowers your performance at work/university?
Is it true?
I looked through 45 studies about breakfast published between 1950 and 2008 and here are the results:
Does skipping breakfast makes you overeat later during the day?
No, but here is why many think the contrary: Breakfast eaters generally consume more kcal per day than non-breakfast eaters. But they are less likely to be overweight for two reasons.
1) The breakfast-lovers usually eat more fiber and more variety. “It seems that children and adolescents eating breakfast have a better nutritional profile in terms of micro- and macronutrients”.
2) They have a routine and they tend to have dinner too. While those that skip breakfast sometimes skip dinner as well or drink alcohol as a replacement for dinner. “Breakfast skippers had a worse lipid profile and tend to skip dinner”
The conclusion is: yes, those that have the habit of eating breakfast tend to eat more during the day, but they pick nutrition with higher quality, therefore have less of a chance of being overweight.
Does skipping breakfast lower your performance at work/university?
Schools have always tried to find ways to maximize the results of their students, that is why most of the studies about performances are made in a school setting. Here it is what they found out:
When it comes to verbal memory and spatial memory, there was no difference in tests between the breakfast-eaters group and the non-eaters. The only time the first group seemed to benefit particularly was when the testing occurred later in the morning, and even in this case..it is was never about breakfast itself! It has more about the HABIT of eating breakfast. Think about it: if you want to have breakfast, you have to wake up in time, this means going to sleep at an appropriate hour, not binge eat during the night, have enough hours of sleep so that you don't have to rush outside last minute. The evidence suggests that these healthy habits around breakfast are more important than breakfast itself.
Historian Ian Mortimer suggests that Tudors might have started the idea of breakfast.
All agree that in general breakfast was a side-effect of the concept of employment. During the Industrial Revolution, when people started to abandon their farms and work in the city, they couldn´t control their time anymore and had to work sometimes long uninterrupted hours.
That is why, the institutions encouraged the morning meal, as a way to ensure that the workers would have more energy and fewer work breaks.
It is important to see how history affects our food habits, whenever it is about the workforce or a slogan for cereals. In this way, you can make better decisions.
- Breakfast eaters tend to select higher quality meals during the day and also perform slightly better at some tests, but overall there is no big difference with the non-eaters.
- Evidence suggests that better performances have more to do with the habit of having regular meals and sleep time, rather than breakfast itself.
As a dietitian, I personally like having breakfast and I don´t enforce it on my clients. If you look forward to this meal – then stick with it. If not, try to compensate with a fiber-rich dinner.
For some ideas, check this link!