We have all heard the expression that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but for many of my nutrition clients—this is the first thing that gets cut out of their morning routine. Whether it’s to save some time, or avoid the extra calories, you may think that you should put your morning meal on the chopping block. But believe it or not, skipping breakfast can have adverse effects on your health goals.
It’s no secret that breakfast can help jumpstart your day and make you more productive. In fact, eating breakfast every morning has been shown to help improve memory function, provide more energy throughout the day, and even lower the risk of chronic disease later in life. As proof of breakfast’s powers, I will share ten surprising benefits to eating breakfast that will hopefully convince you to wake up a little earlier and start cooking, cutting, or blending.
A quick note:
For those of you who don’t want to read the whole article, I want to disclaim that I am not advocating for a breakfast of lucky charms, syrup-drained pancakes, or donuts. The benefits outlined in this article assume a healthy breakfast is consumed. While a balanced breakfast can offer many advantages to your health and wellbeing, an unhealthy one can have adverse effects that make you better off skipping it all together.
Now that we have addressed this, we can continue to cover the surprising benefits that a thoughtful breakfast can have.
Improved Cognitive Function
Glucose is the primary nutrient that your body needs to function. For this reason, breakfast can help raise your blood glucose levels and fuel your brain for optimal performance.
Clinical studies have linked breakfast consumption with improved cognitive function, including your ability to focus and process information. Research also suggests that a breakfast with a lower glycemic index may offer a greater boost to cognitive function than a higher-GI alternative. Similarly, there appears to be advantages to opting for a lower calorie breakfast than a higher calorie or lower-quality one (more on this later.)
A healthy breakfast has been linked to fewer episodes of depression and anxiety, and lower levels of stress. Notably, this only shows to be true for high quality breakfasts. When compared to low-quality breakfast eaters, the breakfast skippers fared better with mood stabilization.
Furthermore, a balanced breakfast can maintain your equilibrium and hormonal balance that can prevent you from any unwelcomed episodes of “hanger”
A nutritious breakfast can improve memory function and recall. This cross-sectional study on 11 to 13-year-olds compared regular breakfast eaters and irregular breakfast eaters on their performance on a blind letter recall test. The study demonstrated significantly better memory recall among those who ate breakfast regularly than those that did not.
Similarly, peer reviewed research has suggested positive benefits to memory recall among adult breakfast eaters.
Attention, Alertness & Concentration
Clinical research has also demonstrated improved attention, alertness and concentration as a result of the regular consumption of high-quality breakfast.
Decreases Obesity Risk
Skipping breakfast has been linked time-and-time again to above-normal BMIs and obesity. This meta-analysis confirms the relationship. Eating a healthy breakfast can help regulate blood sugar, improve satiety, and promote healthy choices throughout the day—all of which can support a healthy body weight.
Helps With Weight Loss
If you are on a diet, trying to maintain a calorie deficit to glow up or lose weight, you may be tempted to forego the extra breakfast calories. However, just as eating breakfast can prevent obesity, it can also help you lose weight.
Thanks to our fascinating circadian rhythms, our bodies are much more receptive to calories first thing in the morning than later in the day. Presumably, this is due to the body’s anticipation of energy needs to sustain us throughout the day. For this reason, glycogenesis (the metabolism of glucose to glycogen) is most active in the morning. The process demands energy and thus, the calorie expenditure that comes with digestion (known as the Thermic Effect of Feeding or TEF) is heightened, leading to lower calorie retention from the meal.
Eating a healthy, protein and fiber-rich breakfast can improve satiety and make you less likely to binge or overeat later in the day.
Preserves and Builds Lean Body Mass
Evidence shows that equal distribution of protein intake throughout the day (4 meals or more with at least 21 grams of protein at each) is optimal for muscle synthesis. By leveraging breakfast as a way to meet this quota, you can sustain and build muscle (when paired with strength training.) This is of increasing importance for aging adults.
Improves Total Nutrient Intake
If you are not sold on the benefits of breakfast just yet, the list doesn’t stop there. Eating breakfast consistently can help improve your total nutrient intake. Heath establishments such as the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine have created dietary reference intakes that suggest how many essential micronutrients and macronutrients should be consumed per day for healthy individuals. Clinical trials have found that breakfast eaters came closer to meeting these recommended daily allowances in addition to consuming less added sugar and total fat than breakfast skippers. On the other hand, breakfast skippers consumed lower levels of dietary fiber and higher levels of saturated fat throughout the day.
Promotes Healthier Behavior Throughout the Rest of the Day
In addition to the physiological benefits a nutritious breakfast can offer, it can also influence your ability to make healthy decisions throughout the day. Regular breakfast consumers have been found to eat healthier diets overall. Whether or not this is caused by eating breakfast or breakfast eaters are simply more health conscious overall is yet to be determined.
However, anecdotally, I can say that I am much more likely to gravitate toward a salad for lunch or when I’ve started my day with a nutritious and satiating breakfast versus when I have not (in these instances, chips and a sandwich tend to be more appealing.)
If you are looking for better sustained energy throughout the day, look no further than your morning oatmeal or parfait. To no surprise, energy (calorie) consumption in the morning is associated with greater levels of energy throughout the day. While you aren’t going to see my skipping my morning coffee…ever…who couldn’t use a little extra pep in their step?
Notably, the increased levels of energy have been associated with a low glycemic and high protein meal.
Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Now that we have established that breakfast consumption is linked to better physiological and psychological function, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it’s also correlated with significantly lower risks of developing heart disease. Clinical research has found breakfast skippers to have a 21% greater chance of experiencing or dying from CVD than those who consumed breakfast regularly.
Prevents Type II Diabetes
Among CVD, Diabetes is also in the top ten leading causes of death, and can also be prevented with a nutritious breakfast. This cross-sectional study found higher levels of insulin resistance among the breakfast skippers. This finding in addition to several other positive biomarker associations created a lower Type 2 Diabetes risk profile among the breakfast eaters.
Improves Blood Cholesterol Levels
While this one goes hand-in-hand with reducing the risk of CVD, research has found Dyslipidemia (unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol and other blood lipids) to be inversely correlated with breakfast consumption. Thus, eating a nutritious breakfast on a regular basis can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Improves Athletic Performance
Just as you can’t expect your brain to function on minimal fuel, you can’t expect your body to either. Research has found that skipping breakfast is associated with reduced levels of athletic performance, even when a bigger lunch is consumed in its absence.
It’s clear that there are many benefits to eating breakfast, many of which may surprise you. While breakfast consumption also seems to be correlated with overall healthier lifestyle choices, there are also clear direct benefits to eating a nutritious meal. While you may be better off skipping the jelly donuts all together, it may be worth waking up a tad earlier to make a smoothie or an otherwise nutritious breakfast.
Disclaimer: I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer, not a registered dietician or physician. The information in this post are meant to be for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a licensed professional for specific dietary guidance
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