We all grew up hearing the same line from our parents: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
But is it?
In recent years, new research has called this bit of conventional wisdom into question. Studies demonstrate that breakfast may not always boost a person’s metabolism after waking up in the morning. A 2014 study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, showed no difference in weight loss or gain between groups studied who did eat breakfast regularly and those who did not. However, it is one of many, often-contradictory studies published on the subject.
While staying up-to-date on the latest research can be helpful, University of Minnesota Health Physician Assistant Kristi Kopacz, MPAS, PA-C, believes it’s more important to listen to your body.
“If you wake up hungry and eating a healthy breakfast makes you feel better to start your day, then this may be the right answer for you,” said Kopacz, who sees patients as part of our Weight Loss Management and Surgery program. “If you wake up not feeling hungry and forcing yourself to eat makes you feel tired and sluggish—or you choose breakfast foods high in sugar or carbohydrates—then breakfast may not be the best answer for you.”
In fact, breakfast food choice may be the most important part of the equation. If a person regularly consumes an unhealthy breakfast, it may be doing more harm than those who skip the meal entirely, Kopacz said. Conversely, people who consume protein during breakfast are less likely to struggle with hunger later in the day. For protein, Kopacz recommends two or three eggs (or just the egg whites for a leaner option), Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or lean meats. If you’re on the go, a low-calorie protein drink or bar with at least 20 grams of protein and fewer than 10 grams of sugar is also a good option.
Breakfast is a regular topic of conversation for Kopacz and her patients. Together, they discuss the patients’ hunger in the mornings, whether eating breakfast affects their hunger levels throughout the rest of the day and how it affects their overall caloric intake. Caloric intake is the key factor in weight gain and loss—after all, it is the sum total of consumption, Kopacz said.
“Overall food intake is what’s really most important,” she said. “We counsel our weight management and bariatric surgery patients on eating two to three times a day without any snacks to avoid grazing and eating excess calories.”
So three meals including breakfast may be acceptable? Yes, breakfast can still be good for those who know their bodies need it and approach the meal in a healthy manner. The bottom line: the importance of the meal depends on the individual, their habits, their hunger throughout the day and what they’re consuming.
“Science is beginning to demonstrate that simply eating or skipping breakfast does not appear to be the uniform answer to health or weight loss,” Kopacz says. “The answer may vary with each individual and depend on the choice of breakfast food as well as how eating breakfast makes the person feel the rest of the day.”