Is a Healthy Breakfast Important?

Think back on your morning. How did it go? Were you relaxed with plenty of time to get ready? Were you rushed and stressed as you scrambled to head out the door on time?

One more important question: Did you sit down and have a healthy breakfast?

If you’re like over half of the population, you probably didn’t. According to a 2015 survey from consumer insights platform provider “Instantly,” which polled more than 10,000 Americans, only 47 percent ate breakfast daily. Even those that did grab something often opted for on-the-go options, like a coffee shop or fast food meal.

Other studies have shown similar results, with people claiming a variety of reasons for avoiding the first meal of the day. Some said they weren’t hungry or thirsty while others said they were too busy or were running late.

Whatever the reason, skipping breakfast isn’t a good idea for most people. The practice has been connected with a number of health problems and, if you’re trying to lose weight, you may be surprised to learn that skipping breakfast is unlikely to help you.

Below, we have three of the most important reasons to make room in your morning schedule for a healthy, nutritious breakfast — along with the health problems that may result if you don’t.

3 Benefits of Regularly Eating Breakfast

Research on eating breakfast has revealed a number of health benefits as opposed to skipping breakfast. Below are three with powerful evidence behind them.

1. Breakfast May Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off

If weight loss is your goal, you may be better off eating breakfast than skipping it, although the research has been mixed.

Most research to date has indicated that eating breakfast can help in your weight-loss goals, perhaps because you’re getting your calories in early in the day when you’re more likely to burn them off.

In one study, for example, scientists found that eating a big breakfast could be key to losing more weight. Individuals who were obese and had type-2 diabetes consumed either a diet that included a large breakfast, medium-sized lunch and small dinner or six small meals evenly spaced throughout the day, including three snacks.

Results showed that after three months, the group eating the diet that included the large breakfast lost 11 pounds while those consuming the diet that involved six smaller meals lost only 3 pounds. The big breakfast group also experienced a greater blood sugar drop and needed significantly less insulin. The researchers stated that when you eat and how frequently you eat is more important than what you eat or how many calories you consume.

“Our body metabolism changes throughout the day,” said study author Daniela Jakubowicz, M.D. “A slice of bread consumed at breakfast leads to a lower glucose response and is less fattening than an identical slice of bread consumed in the evening.”

Another study found similar results. Researchers tracked 50,000 participants age 30 and older and monitored their eating habits for about seven years. They found that eating breakfast, as opposed to skipping it — and making breakfast the biggest meal of the day — was associated with a decrease in body mass index (BMI).

Eating breakfast may also help you avoid gaining weight or gaining it back after you’ve lost it. In one study of about 350 participants, scientists found that eating breakfast was associated with weight loss and was also protective of regaining that weight. Researchers theorize that eating breakfast may affect how fat cells function in your body. This means that, even if you increase your total calorie consumption, those extra calories are offset by the fact that your body is more efficient at burning them off.

If you skip breakfast, the genes in the body that are related to weight loss are less likely to take action, which can lead to blood sugar spikes and a resulting weight gain, no matter what or how much you eat the rest of the day.

What About the Studies Showing That Skipping Breakfast Makes No Difference?

There have been a couple of studies that have contradicted this basic advice and showed that skipping breakfast didn’t make any difference to weight loss.

In 2014, for example, a study came out showing that whether overweight or obese people ate or skipped breakfast made no difference in how much weight they lost. A second study involving 40 teenage girls also found that participants consumed more than 350 fewer calories on days they missed breakfast.

Scientists need more studies to tease out the reasons why these studies may have come up with different results. Meanwhile, it seems that whether or not eating breakfast will help you may have to do with whether you’re overweight, to begin with. In a 2017 study, for example, researchers studied a group of lean adults and a group of obese adults, giving half of each group a breakfast within two hours of waking up and the other half no food at all until noon.

Results showed that in lean people, skipping breakfast for six weeks increased activity of genes helping to burn fat. In obese people, however, this result didn’t occur — for them, skipping breakfast didn’t help.

Overall, the research we have today still supports eating breakfast for weight loss as long as it’s a healthy breakfast. However, there are more reasons to make sure you don’t skip it besides your weight — reasons that matter just as much to your health.

2. You May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

Skip breakfast, and you’ll do your heart wrong. According to an expert panel from the American Heart Association, which reviewed studies on how often and when people eat, breakfast eaters have lower rates of heart disease and are also less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar, meaning they were at a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who skipped breakfast.

In 2017, researchers discovered that those middle-aged adults who routinely skipped breakfast were more likely to have clogged arteries than those who ate a big morning meal. More specifically, nearly 75 percent of the breakfast skippers showed signs of narrowed arteries, which is a condition called atherosclerosis. Clogged arteries are those that have been narrowed and stiffened by plaque buildup, and they can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers weren’t sure why skipping breakfast would be linked to cardiovascular disease, but they believe there are many factors involved. First, people who skip breakfast are more likely to have other bad habits, including eating out a lot or opting for less-healthy convenience foods. Skipping that morning meal could also be linked with negative effects on appetite-regulating hormones and blood sugar, meaning the individual could end up eating more later in the day. Finally, going without a morning meal may spike blood sugar levels, which is linked with hardened arteries.

Those who skip breakfast may be at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes too. In one study where people either ate breakfast or fasted until noon, those who ate breakfast had more active genes involved in insulin resistance and also had cells that took up more sugar, showing that breakfast could be protective against diabetes. Researchers noted that breakfast consumption, in general, is associated with better blood sugar control.

Another concerning finding was that for those individuals who were obese, skipping breakfast actually increased internal inflammation and inflammation is associated with increasing the risk of many major diseases, including heart disease and stroke.

3. You May Enjoy Better Focus and Concentration

One more reason to be sure you make time for breakfast is to increase your ability to stay alert and focused throughout your morning. Eating breakfast has been linked with improved memory and cognitive functioning. In a 2013 study, researchers reported that regularly eating breakfast had a positive effect on children’s academic performance, particularly when it came to math.

In a 2016 review of 45 studies, researchers also found relatively consistent evidence that eating breakfast had a positive effect on attention, memory and executive function. Other studies have indicated that eating breakfast can help reduce declines in attention and memory over the course of a morning.

Of course, it depends on what you eat for breakfast. In one study, for example, participants who ate a low-glycemic breakfast ― including things like oatmeal and other high-fiber items and whole grains ― performed better on memory and attention tests than did those who skipped breakfast or those that ate a high-glycemic breakfast, including carbohydrates and high-sugar items.

Food affects, first of all, blood sugar levels, which can either energize you or leave you dragging, affecting your level of alertness later on that morning. In general, keeping your blood sugar levels stable helps stabilize your thinking too, so that you’re more likely to be able to focus and concentrate. Indeed, some studies have shown even a modest decrease in “glucose stability” can result in cognitive impairment.

Make Sure Your Breakfast Is Healthy

The bottom line is that science isn’t finished yet when it comes to the health benefits of breakfast. They’re still looking into all the many factors that may be involved, including your weight, age, and even your IQ. Some studies have found that skipping breakfast was less harmful to cognitive function in children with high IQs than in those with low IQs.

Meanwhile, what we know so far is that for most people most of the time, eating breakfast is the healthier option as long as it’s a nutritious breakfast consisting of high-fiber foods, protein, fruits, and whole grains. You’ll be more likely to:

  • Keep your blood sugar levels stable
  • Reduce the urge to eat sugary, fatty treats later in the morning
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Keep your heart and blood vessels healthier
  • Enjoy more lasting focus and concentration
  • Be more likely to get all the nutrients your body needs in a day