How important is breakfast, really? A health expert explains how to do it right

The meaning of the word “breakfast” hides in plain sight: breaking a fast.

“I think the idea of ​​breakfast is interesting,” says Steven Malin, a professor of health at Rutgers University. Reverse. “Usually we think of certain foods as breakfast foods, but in reality, breakfast refers to breaking the sleep fast.”

So, technically, whatever you eat first after waking up (presumably) in the morning is breakfast, whether it’s coffee, protein bar, or dinner. The objective health benefits of breakfast are a bit more slick, though some believe that a regular morning breakfast fires up the body’s metabolism and helps stave off obesity.

What it boils down to, says Malin, is what one is trying to accomplish by eating (or skipping) breakfast, and what the body needs most.

Is breakfast the most important meal?

Breakfast’s claim to the main meal stems from its status as the first energy consumed after an eight to 12-hour fast. Malin points to evidence that breakfast improves cognition and decreases hunger. However, the claim that breakfast speeds up metabolism “doesn’t seem to work as well,” she writes. While it’s true that eating breakfast regularly is associated with lower body weight, that may be more related to daily hunger than metabolic function.

It also depends on breakfast. For someone concerned about blood glucose control, skipping breakfast can make blood sugar more difficult to control later in the day. Those who exercise in the morning or during the day are likely to do better with breakfast on them. On the other hand, Malin says that people who eat breakfast are also more active during the day, thus providing energy to accomplish more.

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“This is important as movement throughout the day contributes to reduced mortality/diabetes risks independent of exercise,” writes Malin.

What happens if I skip breakfast?

First, that depends on what you mean by skipping breakfast.

Not eating anything at all means your fast is getting longer and longer. The body is deceptively active at night while we sleep, converting carbohydrates and stored fats called glycogen into glucose to fuel red blood cells and the brain. But, says Malin, the longer you wait to eat after waking up means the body switches from using stored fat to breaking down muscle protein to provide the body with raw materials for glucose. As such, a long-term concern of constantly skipping breakfast, she says, is loss of muscle mass.

A more obvious short-term consequence is dealing with the effects of starvation. Increased hunger could make paying attention to work or school more difficult, as the brain lacks immediate glucose for an energy supply.

Some research suggests that skipping breakfast is associated with weight gain and obesity, which carry a host of health risks, but this concern has less to do with impacts on metabolism.

“Some work suggests that people then compensate throughout the day by snacking more or even eating later in the evening,” says Malin. She adds that eating late at night may be associated with the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and potentially anxiety.

Drinking a coffee can also be a way to skip breakfast, but it still puts calories into the body, especially with sugar and cream to increase insulin levels.

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What makes a good breakfast?

“That is a difficult question to answer,” writes Malin. Ultimately it depends on what one is trying to achieve. Someone with type 2 diabetes looking to maintain weight will eat a different breakfast than someone without diabetes trying to lose weight. (Malin confirms that skipping breakfast is not a good weight-loss plan.)

He says that processed foods could lead to overeating because they are less nutrient dense than unprocessed foods. Eating a favorite sugary cereal can do wonders for our happiness, but it can leave you hungry an hour later. That doesn’t entirely rule out Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but maybe have an egg or whole-grain toast with that bowl. These unprocessed foods are especially important for restoring nutrients depleted during sleep, and this is doubly true for those who exercise regularly.

Looking at what constitutes a hearty American breakfast, Malin estimates that starting with a 2,000-calorie daily diet, a 400-calorie breakfast (give or take) may do the trick. She points to a piece of fruit, a protein source, and morning coffee or tea as a respectable meal.

For breakfast newbies, something is better than nothing, and gearing toward a few hundred calories from unprocessed foods will replenish the body’s energy.

CHECK, PLEASE it’s a Reverse series that uses biology, chemistry and physics to debunk the biggest myths and assumptions about food.

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