You have probably heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” more times than you could ever count. This message has been ingrained into your belief system since you were a toddler, and this notion was continually reinforced by society at large through the media. As a young child how could you not be swept up by the latest, colorful cereal craze, especially when there is always an amazing prize in store at the bottom of the box?
And, according to recent headlines, breakfast is even more important than you might’ve thought. Across the world, media sources from the New York Times to CNN to the Daily Mail have been yelling that breakfast is not just about getting a good start to the day, it might be preventing heart attacks as well! Apparently, skipping breakfast increases your risk of stroke and heart disease by 87%, making it that much more important that we all chow down first thing after waking up.
Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation
Cohort studies can only offer clues about the causes of disease, rather than definitive proof of links between risk factors and health. There are simply too many factors that can influence both breakfast habits and heart disease to make any definitive claims based on an observational study like this.
The “discovery” that breakfast was the most important meal of the day was made in 1847 by Dr. William Robertson, who practiced medicine in Buxton, in the U.K., and who wrote in his Treatise on Diet and Regimen: “Breakfast should always be an important, if not the most important, meal of the day.” Why? Well, because “breakfast is very properly made to consist of a considerable proportion of liquids, to supply the loss of the fluids of the body during the hours of sleep.” Eh?
Robertson, you see, was a water physician, and Buxton was a water spa town, and Robertson believed Buxton waters could cure a host of diseases, including the terrible problem of night-time dehydration. This was a belief not far removed from Hippocrates’ belief in the four humors; or, to put it less politely, it’s garbage.
It is to Adelle Davis (1904-1974), an American dietitian, that we owe the mantra that we should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. Why? Well Davis, who was no more scientific than Robertson, had been told that our blood sugar levels fall in the mornings unless we eat breakfast. Actually, nothing could be more healthful in the Western world today than falling blood sugar levels, for over half of all older people are pre-diabetic or Type 2 diabetic. But Davis supposed (with precisely zero evidence) that falling blood sugar levels were a problem, to which breakfast was the solution. We now, therefore, know the evidence Davis invoked to justify breakfast actually shows the opposite: To be healthy in a world of rampant Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, we should skip breakfast and rejoice in our blood sugar levels falling gently yet safely over the morning.
The Big Scary Study is a wonderful media device whereby journalists take a piece of reasonably humdrum, everyday research — in this case an observational study looking for Association between Skipping Breakfast with Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality — and turn it into something to fear. It’s like saying that your bed is much more dangerous to you than any shark. In fact, 450 die every year from falling out of bed, that is more than hundred times as many people die from shark attacks. Furthermore, falling out of bed leads to 1.8 million emergency room visits, and 400,000 hospital admissions every year.
Scientists were honestly misled in the past by many observational studies showing that obese people skipped meals more often than thin people. This mindset became ingrained in nutritional dogma. Breakfast skippers were more likely, on average, to be poorer, less educated, less healthy and have a poorer diet. Overweight people were more likely to diet and, after a binge, more likely to feel guilty and skip a meal.
Despite these flaws in the science and the steady increase in opposing evidence from randomised controlled trials, the idea that skipping meals is unhealthy has prevailed for decades. It’s still part of current NHS recommendations by Public Health England and one of its eight key healthy diet messages, part of USDA Dietary guidelines for Americans, as well as the Australian Guidelines for Nutrition.
Epidemiology is a complex field and communicating risk can be extremely difficult. More importantly, we’ve built a media system that rewards sensationalism, and doesn’t condemn misrepresentations, which means that the best way to earn money as a publisher is to churn out nonsense. The only way to really change that is for all of us, everywhere, to question what lies behind the headlines, and actually read some of the research we hear about in the news.
Breakfast really needs to be downgraded from “most important meal of the day” to “meal”. Different nations have different breakfast traditions. The big “American” breakfast contrasts directly with the French “petit dejeuner” or “small lunch”. The key word here is ‘small’. The definition of the word breakfast is the first meal of the day and its origin was derived from the late Middle English verbs break and fast. When you don’t eat, this is technically known as ‘fasting’. This is the reason there is the English word ‘break fast’ or breakfast, the meal that breaks your fast. It does not mean to make sure you fill your bellies within minutes of waking. Prior to the mid 13th century dinner was actually the first meal of the day. In Europe eating early in the day was originally thought to be a sin associated with overindulgence and gluttony. Many other cultures such as the Egyptians would only have coffee and would not break their fasts until noon.
Indeed, a significant amount of evidence has found that reducing your eating window (say, by skipping breakfast or dinner) is linked to less insulin in the blood, a lower risk of diabetes, and an increase in autophagy, which refers to a process whereby the body repairs or removes damaged cells.(Ref)(Ref)(Ref)
Many other studies that have focused on the pros and cons of fasting, including high quality randomized controlled trials, found that there’s no significant difference in body composition whether you skip breakfast or even fast every other day.(Ref)(Ref)(Ref) Others suggest that breakfast skipping does indeed lead to a lower BMI.(Ref)(Ref)(Ref)
On the other hand, may be due to circadian rhythm, eating a large breakfast is beneficial than eating a large dinner, which might be a useful alternative for the management of obesity and metabolic syndrome. So, to be clear. If you eat one meal a day, best make it breakfast. If you eat two meals a day, best make it breakfast and lunch. BUT eating 3 meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner) is not necessarily better than 2 (lunch/ dinner), which is often the message given out by the ‘Never skip breakfast’ mafioso. The optimal strategy seems to be eating a large meal in the mid-day – sometime between 12:00 and 3:00pm and only a small amount in the evening hours. Interestingly, this is the typical traditional Mediterranean eating pattern. They have traditionally eaten a large lunch, followed by a siesta and then a small, almost snack sized ‘dinner’. While we often think of the Mediterranean diet as healthy due to the foods, the timing of the meals may also play a role.
The well-known phrase “Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince and Dine like a Pauper” is true, but do you follow it?
Don’t worry too much about the headlines.
May be we are asking the wrong question. May we should question ” When Should We Eat Breakfast (The Most Important Meal of The Day)?”
In our Restoring Health Program, we believe breakfast should be understood in its literal meaning – to break your fast – and the longer you can go without breaking your fast, the better. Why? Because you are giving your body a break! You are giving your body a break from producing insulin every time you eat, which can lead to insulin resistance in the long-term.
So, breakfast is certainly an important meal but it does not need to be consumed as soon as you roll off the bed. Breaking your fast with sugary cereal and a muffin is certainly not healthy. The greatest problem is that breakfast foods are often little more than dessert in disguise, containing vast quantities of highly processed carbohydrates and sugar. You can break your fast at noontime with a healthy salad and a piece of salmon. Have a cup of coffee in the morning.
So, what to eat for breakfast? If you are not hungry – then don’t eat anything at all. It is perfectly acceptable to break your fast at noon with a piece of grilled salmon with a side salad. Technically, this will be your ‘break fast’. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating breakfast in the morning either. It is just like any other meal. However, in the morning rush, there is a tendency to reach for convenient prepackaged, heavily processed, and heavily sugared foods. Eat whole, unprocessed foods at all meals, including breakfast. If you find that you do not have time to eat – then don’t. Again – simplify your life.
Top reasons why not eating breakfast within 1-2 hour after waking up will improve your health
You’ll Stop Slowing Down Your Metabolism.
When you eat breakfast within 1-2 hour upon waking, over time your metabolism will slow down, with its accompanying high insulin level that prevents you from burning fat and losing weight. Insulin locks fat onto your body; you can’t lose weight when your insulin levels are high.
You also put yourself at risk for insulin resistance, which will lead to Type 2 diabetes if left uncorrected.
You Won’t Lose The Benefits Of Your Overnight Fast.
As the word breakfast implies – you break your fast. All night you’ve been fasting and burning fat, perhaps even producing ketones as a better fuel source for your body than sugar.
Then you wake up and eat, which spikes your insulin and nullifies the benefits of the fast you just gifted your body with overnight. These benefits are:
- Autophagy: the recycling action of your cells. Your cells are cleaning themselves of waste and damaged protein, especially in your brain.
- Formation of new brain cells (neurogenesis): yes, when you extend your overnight fast by skipping breakfast, your body makes new brain cells.
- Anti-inflammatory effect: for example, if you have inflammation or arthritis, skipping breakfast will ease your inflammation.
- Body repair: when you skip breakfast you give your body – including your digestive tract – a better chance to repair itself. This repair process includes autophagy.
You’ll Stop Harming Your Body With Standard Breakfast Foods.
Our typical breakfast foods are loaded with refined carbohydrates and sugar: juice, toast, cereal, pancakes, fruit, and sweetened yogurt, for example, are a common part of many people’s breakfast.
But here’s the harm you do to your body when you eat these items:
- You create a big insulin spike in your body;
- about 90 minutes later you’ll be very hungry before lunchtime; then,
- you’ll be craving sweets the rest of the day; and,
- because your blood sugar’s swinging wildly throughout the day, by nighttime you’ll be craving exactly the wrong foods for your health.
If this sounds like what happens to you when you eat breakfast, I guarantee it means you’re eating too many carbs in the morning or too many the days before your cravings strike. Try writing down what you eat and see if you can identify this cause and effect.