Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

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Q: Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

“Rather go to bed supperless, than run in debt for a Breakfast.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Poor Richard’s Almanac

A: It’s hard to say which meal is the most important; a well balanced diet should always be a priority. There are a whole bunch of reasons to skip your Wheaties: lack of time, lack of hunger, or even the desire to lose weight.  

Investigators keep trying to pinpoint what it is specifically about breakfast (versus other meals) that makes it all that, but nutritional studies are tricky. There are a lot of confounding variables. Tabulating actual calories ingested and their nutritional content is fraught with the perils of self-reporting. Nevertheless, there is a wealth of data supporting an association between breakfast and better grades, more daily exercise, and less absenteeism. Separating causation from association here, though, is difficult. Are people who eat breakfast healthier in general because they tend to take better care of themselves, or does the act of eating breakfast actually makes them healthier?  

Breakfast and weight loss is a little clearer. There is a popular belief that skipping breakfast can help you lose weight. In fact, skipping this first meal appears to work against you and sadly can lead to weight gain. In particular, a healthy breakfast of fruit and grains tends to keep hunger at bay throughout the day, making you less likely to eat quick but tasty snacks, often nutritionally lacking but calorie-filled. Fasting also increases your insulin response to snacky food challenges, making you more likely to store nutrients as fat.

Skipping that bowl of oatmeal isn’t just risky for your figure.  There’s some good evidence, especially in school children, that school performance is better with a full belly. Kids who receive breakfast at school miss less days of class, get better grades, and subjectively report better attention and task completion. This is an interesting finding because school breakfast experiments are able to control for some of those confounding variables that make nutritional studies hard to interpret: the meal is the same for everybody; they measure objective data (rates of absence, grades) as opposed to just subjective symptoms; and in some studies, the meals were free so there was no bias for or against kids who weren’t getting breakfast at home.

Do your body and your brain a favor. Feed them a bowl of cereal and piece of fruit before you head out in the morning.

Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (OSU COM), Victoria Rentel, MD (OSU SHS)