Breakfast has long been pointed to by many as being the most important meal of the day. But is this just a myth passed down through the ages, or is there actual scientific verification for the statement that breakfast is important.
To understand more about this subject, it is good to realize what breakfast actually is. Breakfast is the meal which ‘breaks the fast’ which the body has experienced over night. A fast is a time when we give our body a rest from eating. In some cultures, people fast regularly to be sure that their bodies get a break, but night time (and sleeping) are the natural times for the body to do this. It’s not something that we have to build into our lifestyle! The first meal after that sleeping is usually, then, a meal which is taken fairly early in the morning and before we begin our day’s activities. It sets the scene for the body of what it is now expected to do. It kick starts, if you like, the metabolism. It signals the body to get ready for a new day.
Many people skip breakfast because they feel that they don’t have time for breakfast. But to break the fast after a night’s sleep does not require a meal which has taken hours to prepare. A simple bowl of cereal with a splash of milk will suffice. And the time saved in not eating it is not worth the loss that will be suffered.
What loss, I hear you ask! Let us look at the loss of energy. Without breakfast, we expect our rested body to begin a day’s activities with no nourishment since the night before. Therefore, later in the day there will be a corresponding loss of energy as the body’s blood/sugar level drops. It may be necessary to eat some high calorie food from a vending machine you are passing so that your body can continue to operate effectively. So, the next loss we might expect is a loss of appetite for the next proper meal that we would normally have, lunch.
As you may see, there is a cycle being established. If you begin your day with a nourishing and satisfying breakfast, you will be less likely to eat between meals and, in particular, to be drawn to high calorie, high sugar foods for energy. Which leads to another reason that people often give for not eating breakfast. They think that by not eating breakfast they will be able to lose weight. In fact, studies show that people with high BMI (body mass index) are people who tend to skip breakfast. Obese people are often those who eat high calorie food at nighttime, when there is not an opportunity for the body to burn the calories as the body is preparing to rest for the night. Participants of the Seasonal Variation of Blood Cholesterol Study (SEASONS), for example, who regularly skipped breakfast, had 4.5 times the risk of obesity as those who consumed breakfast regularly! But while the link between obesity and skipping breakfast is strong, there is room to subscribe also to the notion that people who don’t east breakfast also make other decisions which are not nutritionally astute and thus contribute to their obesity.
The fact is, though, that the body and brain expect to be re-fueled a few times a day at intervals which are appropriate to what the body has been doing. So, it may be that if a person’s occupation has them physically very busy in the morning, they may eat breakfast and follow fairly quickly with another snack prior to lunch and then may not need additional ‘fuel’ until their evening meal. But that first breakfast – which ideally will be rich in protein and fiber – sets the body up for the day, re-charging the brain so that it operates more efficiently, and giving the body the necessary nutrients for it also to operate with ease.
It is for these reasons that national experts refer to breakfast as the most important meal of the day. And, as with many other things, eating habits are generally learned early in life and carried through lifetimes, so the importance of educating our children as to the importance of this meal cannot be overstated. And, in particular, because as school children when they are learning and growing more intensively than at any other time in their life, breakfast will assist them with their studies. Poor academic performance together with decreased school attendance, displeasure in school and poor lecture learning have been linked to fatigue which is measured in studies using the Chalder Fatigue Scale which has been shown to be reliable in evaluating the severity of fatigue. And in the magazine ‘Nutrition’, recently a study in Japan was published which showed that skipping breakfast was associated with fatigue in medical students. So, as I have said, it is important that we assist our children to learn good eating habits early in life which will alleviate other problems and challenges for them as they get older and begin to demand more of their bodies and minds!
There are many studies which confirm that breakfast is an important meal which should be included in our daily routine, but one which I will mention here is The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) which investigated the relationship between BMI and breakfast consumption by looking at the relationship between breakfast type, total daily energy intake, and BMI. The survey addressed 16,452 adults in a large, population based study that confirmed there was no correlation between skipping breakfast and losing weight – not eating breakfast is not a successful weight loss technique! This study also noted that breakfast choice plays a role in lowering BMI. Individuals that ate cereal (hot or cold) or quick breads for breakfast as opposed to meat and eggs had a significantly lower BMI. So, once again, it is true to say that it is not necessary to spend a lot of time preparing a ‘meal’ for breakfast. Something quick, like cereal and a splash of milk, will not take time to prepare, but will be beneficial in health terms.