By Adda Bjarnadottir Authority Nutrition
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
This myth is pervasive in society.
Breakfast is perceived as healthy, even more important than other meals.
Even today’s official nutrition guidelines recommend that we eat breakfast.
It is claimed that breakfast helps us lose weight, and that skipping it can raise our risk of obesity.
This seems like a problem, because up to 25% of Americans regularly skip breakfast (1).
However, new high-quality studies have started questioning the universal advice that everyone should eat breakfast.
This article takes a detailed look at breakfast, and whether skipping it is really going to harm your health and make you fat.
Breakfast Eaters Tend to Have Healthier Habits
It’s true, many studies show that breakfast eaters tend to be healthier.
For example, they are less likely to be overweight/obese, and have a lower risk of several chronic diseases (2, 3, 4).
For this reason, many experts have claimed that breakfast must be good for you.
However, these studies are so-called observational studies, which can not demonstrate causation.
These studies show that people who eat breakfast are more likely to be healthier, but they can not prove that the breakfast itself caused it.
Chances are that breakfast eaters have other healthy lifestyle habits that can explain this.
For example, people who eat breakfast also tend to eat a healthier diet, with more fiber and micronutrients (5, 6).
On the other hand, people who skip breakfast tend to smoke more, drink more alcohol and exercise less (7).
Perhaps these are the reasons that breakfast eaters are healthier, on average. It may not have anything to do with the breakfast itself.
In fact, higher quality studies called randomized controlled trials suggest that it doesn’t really matter whether you eat or skip breakfast.
Bottom Line: Breakfast eaters tend to be healthier and leaner than breakfast skippers. This may be due to the fact that breakfast eaters have other healthy lifestyle habits.
Eating Breakfast Does Not Boost Your Metabolism
Some people claim that eating breakfast “kick-starts” the metabolism, but this is a myth.
These people are referring to the thermic effect of food, which is the increase in calories burned that occurs after you eat.
However, what matters for metabolism is the total amount of food consumed throughout the day. It makes no difference at which times, or how often, you eat.
Studies show that there is no difference in calories burned over 24 hours between people who eat or skip breakfast (8).
Bottom Line: Whether you eat or skip breakfast has no effect on the amount of calories you burn throughout the day. This is a myth.
Skipping Breakfast Does Not Cause Weight Gain
As mentioned above, people who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than people who eat breakfast.
This may seem paradoxical, because how can not eating make you gain more weight?
Well, some claim that skipping breakfast causes you to become very hungry so that you overeat later in the day.
This seems to make sense, but isn’t supported by the evidence.
It is true that skipping breakfast causes people to be more hungry and eat more at lunch, but this is not enough to overcompensate for the breakfast that was skipped.
In fact, some studies have even shown that skipping breakfast may reduce overall calorie intake by up to 400 calories per day (9, 10, 11).
This seems logical, because you are effectively removing an entire meal from your diet each day.
Interestingly, the eat/skip breakfast dilemma was recently tested in a high-quality randomized controlled trial.
This was a 4-month long study that compared recommendations to eat or skip breakfast in 309 overweight/obese men and women (12).
After 4 months, there was no difference in weight between groups. It simply didn’t matter whether people ate or skipped breakfast.
These results are supported by other studies on the effects of breakfast habits on weight loss. Skipping breakfast had no visible effects (5, 12, 13).
Bottom Line: Higher-quality studies show that it makes no difference whether people eat or skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast makes you eat more at lunch, but not enough to compensate for the breakfast you skipped.
Skipping Breakfast May Even Have Some Health Benefits
Skipping breakfast is a common part of many intermittent fasting methods.
This includes the 16/8 method, which consists of a 16-hour overnight fast followed by an 8-hour eating window.
This eating window usually ranges from lunch until dinner, which means that you skip breakfast every day.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to effectively reduce calorie intake, increase weight loss and improve metabolic health (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).
However, it’s important to mention that intermittent fasting and/or skipping breakfast does not suit everyone. The effects vary by individual (19).
Some people may experience positive effects, while others may develop headaches, drops in blood sugar, faintness and lack of concentration (20, 21).
Bottom Line: Skipping breakfast is a part of many intermittent fasting protocols, such as the 16/8 method. Intermittent fasting can have numerous health benefits.
Breakfast is Optional
The evidence is clear, there is nothing “special” about breakfast.
It probably does not matter whether you eat or skip breakfast, as long as you eat healthy for the rest of the day.
Breakfast does not “jump start” your metabolism and skipping it does not automatically make you overeat and gain weight.
This is a myth, based on observational studies that have since been proven wrong in randomized controlled trials (real science).
At the end of the day, breakfast is optional, and it all boils down to personal preference.
If you feel hungry in the morning and you like breakfast, go ahead and eat a healthy breakfast. A protein-rich breakfast is best.
However, if you don’t feel hungry in the morning and don’t feel that you need breakfast, then don’t eat it. It’s as simple as that.