Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day. Or Is It?

Is your morning meal as critical as it seems? We asked the experts.

Photo: Olimpia Davies

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I’ve never been a breakfast person. I don’t skip breakfast because I think breakfast is a bad idea, but because I’m no fan of breakfast foods. Fluffy scrambled eggs? I’m cringing just thinking about the texture. Perfectly golden pancakes topped with fresh fruit? No thanks, I don’t want any weird, bland cake imitators. So, I simply skip breakfast and start my daily eating window at lunch.

But if you’ve ever skipped breakfast, you know exactly how people react when you tell them you aren’t eating a meal as soon as you wake up. Shock, slight horror and the unavoidable “But breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” And because breakfast is touted as absolutely critical, it’s easy to feel like you’re harming your health and your nutrition by skipping breakfast. But is opting out of this meal really that bad? Are you hurting your health and failing to give your body what it needs when you don’t eat breakfast?

According to new research, skipping breakfast might result in some unexpected nutritional changes. Find out whether you should start making time for breakfast — or if it’s not as critical as it seems. 

Skipping breakfast might mean you’re missing out on key nutrients.

An Ohio State University analysis of data and study on more than 30,000 American adults shows that forgoing breakfast may cause you to skip out on important nutrients. 

The researchers examined and analyzed the eating habits of adults from 2005 to 2016. All of the participants self-designated their eating periods as either meals or snacks, noting when they ate the food too. This clued researchers into whether or not participants were eating breakfast, lunch or dinner meals. By the study’s end, 15.2 percent of the participants reported skipping breakfast. 

From there, researchers used the reported food data to create nutrient estimates. They compared their estimates to the recommended daily intake of nutrients suggested by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies. 

When taking a close look at what Americans were (or weren’t) eating for breakfast, the study’s researchers found that individuals who were passing on this morning meal were getting lower amounts of certain nutrients. Those who skipped breakfast were eating fewer vitamins and minerals than those who ate breakfast. Specifically, breakfast skippers were lacking folate, calcium, iron and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D. 

A missed morning meal may also alter your habits.

Study participants who didn’t eat breakfast were found to lack the nutrients that come from your typical breakfast. They consumed less calcium because they weren’t sipping a glass of milk, took in fewer vitamins without a serving of fruits or fortified cereals, and lost out on iron and other vitamins too. 

The study showed that breakfast skippers also tended to eat an overall worse diet all day long. A missed breakfast made a participant more likely to consume more added sugars, carbohydrates and total fat throughout the course of the day. And it led to increased snacking. Snacking throughout the day ended up adding about a meal’s worth of calories to the breakfast-skipping participants’ daily food consumption. 

So, forgoing breakfast every day might potentially mess with both your nutrient intake and your calorie intake. But just because you’re forgoing an early-morning meal doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still get the vital nutrients you need the rest of the day.

Skipping breakfast doesn’t have to have a negative effect.

Opting out of breakfast might not be as bad of an idea as the above research claims. If you’re aware of potential dietary pitfalls that can come from skipping breakfast, you can set yourself up to get all of the nutrients you need and make healthy choices throughout the day.

One way to do this is to reframe how you think about breakfast. Instead of approaching it as an early-morning meal that involves fresh fruit, a tall glass of milk and a bowl of cereal, you should think about it as your first meal of the day — whatever that might look like.

Breakfast itself isn’t critically important. What is important is sticking with a balanced healthy diet every day. As Clean Eating advisors Erin Macdonald, RDN, and Tiffani Bachus, RDN, of U Rock Girl explain, “A morning meal, as defined in the study as breakfast, isn’t essential to get in all of your nutrients for the day. We’ve found that you can get all of your nutrients even if you skip a morning meal, so long as your other meals are well-balanced.” 

Plus, some people have a perfectly good reason to “skip” breakfast. You might be intermittent fasting and eating your meals at less traditional times of the day. Or you might not eat breakfast in the traditional sense, pushing your first meal back so it’s more of a brunch. However you choose to start eating, it’s still possible to stay healthy, eat the right nutrients and satisfy snacking urges while adapting to your diet, your health, your personal preferences or your busy schedule.

If you’ve been skipping breakfast for one of the following reasons, here’s how you can make sure you’re getting all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs, whether or not you want to start eating an early morning meal.

You’re trying intermittent fasting

Many intermittent fasting schedules don’t seem like they leave you the flexibility to work breakfast into your schedule. The popular 16:8 schedule, for example, has you fitting your meals into an 8-hour window. The 14:10 schedule gives you a bit more flexibility in terms of a traditional breakfast, but it all depends on when you start and end your eating window.

But you don’t have to try to fit in a morning meal if you’re trying IF. Just think about your first meal of the day — whatever time it occurs at — as your breakfast. You aren’t really skipping breakfast. You’re just pushing your first meal of the day back. 

And if you’re like me, that first meal might not contain any traditional breakfast options. My go-to is a protein-packed salad with tons of veggies (and always some creamy avocado!). As long as you fuel up with healthy foods and aim for a well-balanced eating pattern when you do eat your daily meals — whatever time they might be at — you’ll likely be getting all of the nutrients you need.

You’re too busy for breakfast

You’re never too busy to chow down on a nutritious meal. The key is finding a breakfast — or a few different breakfasts — that suit your schedule. 

Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of breakfasts that you can prepare in advance, then grab and hit the road with in the morning. From convenient protein-rich breakfast pockets to veggie-filled egg bites to breakfast bars you can bring anywhere, we have something you’ll like and find doable for any busy workday. Don’t want to take the time to prep breakfast ahead of time? We’ve got you covered with some of our favorite store-bought breakfasts that are ideal for busy mornings.

If you do skip a traditional early morning breakfast, don’t worry about it! Eat when you have time (and when you’re hungry), and make sure to choose clean, healthy foods.  

You just don’t like breakfast

If you’re anti-breakfast like me, I’ve got great news. You don’t have to eat breakfast — or you can, and you can choose whatever foods you’d like.

Plenty of people just don’t enjoy typical breakfast foods like eggs, waffles, pancakes or cereals, and that can make you write off a morning meal. But you can eat absolutely anything for breakfast. Of course, the typical foods tend to contain the nutrients that breakfast skippers may be prone to lacking, as the research mentioned above demonstrates. But you can eat foods that are both perfectly suited to your preferences and full of necessary nutrients. Just keep balance (and your health) in mind.

No matter how you choose to eat — or skip! — breakfast, just keep our Clean Eating advisors’ advice in mind. “Failing to plan is planning to fail. Be prepared, and you will get all of your nutrients,” say Erin and Tiffani. With a little preparation, you can avoid the temptation to make less-than-ideal food choices.

You can also aim to eat foods rich in different vitamins and minerals. You can try leafy greens, turkey and even Swiss cheese in the morning to get a dose of B vitamins. Fruits like strawberries and papaya are great AM options to give you a good amount of vitamin C. And for vitamin D, you can try salmon, mushrooms and even some leafy greens.

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