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Surprising Science

Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Breakfast has been made out to be one of the most important meals of the day. It’s taboo to skip it, because of all the wonderful things researchers say this one meal can do to improve our lives. But is breakfast’s pedestal deserved?

Breakfast has been made out to be one of the most important meals of the day. It’s considered taboo to skip it, and we’ll even go so far as to shame people for doing so. After all, making time to eat this one meal allows our lives to improve dramatically, or so it seems. Without it we’ve been told we run the risk of having lower IQs or increasing our risk of coronary heart disease. However, breakfast’s magical properties may have been overstated.

Aaron E. Carroll from the New York Timespoints out that the evidence supporting the eat breakfast camp should be looked at with a healthy dose of skepticism. Indeed, the relationship in some cases may be more correlation than causation, writes nutritionist John Berardi.

One study actually looked at the common proposition that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. Their 2013 meta-analysis found past studies used improper language which suggested a causal relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They concluded: “The belief in the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity exceeds the strength of scientific evidence. The scientific record is distorted by research lacking probative value and biased research reporting.”

Cereal companies have a vested interest to make sure consumers buy into breakfast. Carroll found just this issue when digging into some of these often cited reports about the benefits of breakfast—they were funded by Kelloggs or Quaker Oats. 

Nutrition researcher Marion Nestle would agree. She explained in her blog Food Politics, “Many — if not most — studies demonstrating that breakfast eaters are healthier and manage weight better than non-breakfast eaters were sponsored by Kellogg or other breakfast cereal companies whose businesses depend on people believing that breakfast means ready-to-eat cereal.”

So, what really happens when we don’t eat breakfast?

Some suggest it may actually help people lose weight, but most have found eating breakfast has no discernible effect on weight loss. It’s hard to say whether or not breakfast has any amazing health benefits. Such knowledge would require a controlled, long-term, randomized study. What we do known is breakfast’s pedestal is undeserved, given the current scientific literature available.

In this case, the simplest advice might be the best. “For most people, when you eat matters far less than how much you eat,” Nestle writes. “If you wake up starving, by all means eat an early breakfast. If not, eat when you are hungry and don’t worry about it.”


Photo Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker


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