By Dr. Nina Radcliff
Did you eat breakfast today? Or, are you one of the estimated 31 million Americans that skip breakfast because you don’t feel hungry, are “too busy” or, just don’t want to eat that meal? Whether you are a breakfast-eater or not, you need to know that there are proven, vital health reasons to never skip it.
Research shows that breakfast provides you with more energy, an improved ability to concentrate, and a decreased incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. As well, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2017) provides insight on what really happens in the body when people skip breakfast on a regular basis – highlighting that the habit may increase dangerous inflammation. These researchers concluded that because chronic inflammation is known to affect insulin sensitivity, skipping breakfast could contribute to “metabolic impairment,” which could potentially raise the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The term “breakfast” is derived from the fact that we are “breaking” our “fast” and providing our bodies with fuel after several hours of not eating. Let’s take a closer look at why this meal is so important and how we can make changes from the dangers of skipping breakfast!
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About the Vital Health Benefits of Breakfast
Your Well Being: Apart from providing us with energy we need for our day, breakfast foods are a good source of important nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins as well as protein and fiber. The body needs these essential nutrients and research shows that if they are not consumed at breakfast time, it becomes a “missed opportunity”—you are less likely to compensate for them later in the day.
Weight: And too, skipping breakfast has been scientifically proven to cause weight gain. It may seem intuitive that eating less calories, for example, by skipping breakfast, can help us shed some pounds. However, when it comes to “the most important meal of the day,” the reality is counter-intuitive. Eating breakfast suppresses the release of hunger hormones that would stimulate our appetite and also provides a feeling of fullness or “satiety.” What this translates to is having more willpower when we come face-to-face with high calorie, high fat, or sugary options that can wreak havoc to our waistlines.
In fact, research shows that for those trying to manage their weight and who regularly eat breakfast, they would, on average, lose 50 percent more weight than those who skip breakfast. And, they are more likely to keep it off for at least 2 years—meaning that the effects are long-lasting.
Mental Sharpness: Food is fuel and provides the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for our body to function, including our brain. Before going for a run or to the gym, it makes sense that we nourish our muscles with a snack or small meal. Similarly, our brain needs the same nourishment for optimal performance. Studies have shown that eating breakfast is associated with better memory, concentration, learning, and creativity. In fact, when children eat a balanced breakfast, it has positive effects on learning in terms of behavior, thinking, and school performance—they perform better academically and are less likely to be tardy or absent.
Type 2 Diabetes: People who regularly skip breakfast have a greater than 20 percent increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to breakfast-eaters. The reasoning behind this is that our blood sugar levels are often low in the morning after fasting all night. And if we do not eat a morning meal to restore them, our body responds by increasing cortisol, a stress hormone that elevates blood sugar levels. In turn, this stimulates insulin spikes. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary for sugar in the blood to enter into a cell and be utilized as fuel. So when there is an increase in insulin, there is a corresponding decrease in circulating blood sugar levels. This, then, creates a roller coaster of ups and downs with blood sugar levels.
Over time, these fluctuations can contribute to the development of insulin resistance and, hence, diabetes. Conversely, eating a balanced breakfast can fend off cortisol and “hunger hormone” production, and, as a result, stabilize blood sugar levels.
Heart Health: In a large study looking at the eating patterns of 27,000 men, not eating a morning meal was associated with a 27 percent greater risk for a heart attack or death from one. Although the study group only looked at men, the results are likely to also apply to women. And, too, the science behind this link remains unclear. What we do know is that eating a morning meal can help fend off risk factors for heart disease: obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Some tips and tricks to eating a nutritious breakfast: What we eat is important and big results can start with small changes to our grocery shopping and morning routine. And, yes, the research also notes that of those who do eat breakfast, convenience is key.
The next time you are at the grocery store or market, make sure to fill your grocery cart with foods that are high in nutrients such as fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D:
- Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, oranges, grapes
- Frozen fruit: great to toss into the blender for smoothies or adding to Greek yogurt
- Whole grains: wheat bread, bran cereal, steel-cut oats
- Nuts: peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios; and peanut or almond butter
- Eggs or egg substitute
- Dairy: Skim cow, soy, or almond milk; Greek yogurt; cottage cheese; cheese
Also, add some creativity:
- A bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or bran cereal with fruit or nuts sprinkled on top
- A cup of Greek yogurt with fruit (fresh or frozen), honey, steel-cut oats, or nuts on top
- Whole grain bread with cheese or peanut butter spread on it
- Scrambled, omelet, sunny-side up, boiled, or over-easy eggs with veggies and/or cheese on whole-wheat bread, or wrapped inside a pita
- Smoothies with skim milk or yogurt, fruit, veggies
- Cheese and fruit platter
And because time is precious and moves at light-speed in the mornings, consider preparing items the night before—or when we have time and freeze them so they can readily be pulled out and thawed. And remember that breakfast should be eaten within two hours of waking.
The American Heart Association has issued a scientific statement on the importance of eating breakfast everyday – because it’s not only what we eat but also when we eat it that affects our risk of heart disease. This statement was published based upon a snapshot of the current scientific evidence that eating breakfast regularly is good for our bodies.
Sadly, the “most important meal of the day” is also the most skipped meal of the day – but my hope is that it will never be the fact for you and your family. I join with millions of health experts underscoring that as you manage for a healthier you – always start each day with a healthy breakfast!!
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.