Is Breakfast All That Important?

The issue of whether or not to eat breakfast has become so confusing it's enough to take away your appetite. One recent study debunks the long-held belief that eating breakfast helps you lose weight, while another study found that men who skip the meal are a higher risk for heart disease.

The Case Against Breakfast

One study, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, found skipping breakfast could actually be an effective way to lose weight. Researchers at Cornell University found that breakfast skippers did not end up gorging at other meals to make up for what they hadn't eaten at breakfast. In fact, they consumed an average of 408 fewer calories a day than those who had a morning meal.

"There's a fundamental belief that if you don't eat breakfast, you will compensate for the lost calories at lunch or later in the day," said study senior author David Levitsky, according to a news release from Cornell. "If you skip breakfast, you may be hungrier, but you won't eat enough calories to make up for the lost breakfast."

The study authors added that individuals with diabetes should eat breakfast anyway, in order to maintain blood sugar levels.

The Benefits of Breakfast on Heart Health

Another recent study, published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that men who skip breakfast have a 27 percent higher risk of heart disease than men who eat a healthy breakfast. The study, from Harvard researchers, found a strong correlation between skipping breakfast and heart disease.

"Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time," said lead study author Leah E. Cahill, PhD, according to the American Heart Association. 

More Benefits of Breakfast

There's considerable evidence that breakfast eaters tend to have better academic performance, higher intakes of micronutrients and fiber, and possibly better memory function than breakfast skippers, adds Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Generally speaking, breakfast kick-starts the metabolism and wards off feelings of hunger that can reduce work productivity and school performance," Begun says.

But, she adds, everyone should eat according to their personal hunger cues. "If a large meal was eaten late the previous day, then it doesn't make sense to force down breakfast," Begun says.

"It can be very confusing but I still hands-down always recommend breakfast," says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. "It sets the right tone for the day. It gives us the needed energy to fuel our bodies. It gives us much needed nutrients like fiber and calcium."

If you're concerned about weight loss, Gans notes that all her patients who eat something for a morning meal typically lose more weight than those who skip it.

So what breakfast is best? Here are some energizing ideas from Begun and Gans:

  • A bowl of oatmeal with nonfat milk and a heaping tablespoonful of peanut butter with a bowl of fruit on the side. (Optional: chia seeds on the oatmeal.)
  • A scrambled egg white omelet made with feta, spinach, and chopped tomatoes, and served with whole-wheat toast. (Or make the omelet with whole eggs but omit the feta.)
  • A bowl of lowfat plain yogurt topped with lots of berries and a high-fiber cereal. Optional: walnuts or slivered almonds on top.
  • A short stack of homemade, whole-grain pancakes topped with fresh berries, and a poached egg on the side.
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on 100-percent whole-wheat bread, made with natural peanut butter and a low-sugar jam, with a glass of lowfat or fat-free milk.
  • Not a fan of traditional breakfast foods? Have a turkey sandwich on 100 percent whole-wheat bread, with lettuce and tomato.

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, reviewed this article.



Friedlander, Blaine. "Skipping breakfast may be healthy way to shed weight." 19 July 2013. Cornell University News Service.

"Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk." 22 July 2013. American Heart Association.