Many of us have been taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and missing it can bring dire consequences. Is the saying just an old wives’ tale, or is there an element of truth?

Breaking our fast

The most basic function of breakfast is to literally ‘break’ our ‘fast’. Most of us wake up having not eaten for at least 8 hours, and often much more.

Morning eating habits vary across the globe. Almost half of adult Brits claim they rarely have time to eat breakfast, yet would most prefer a full cooked breakfast, according to a study from The same survey suggested eggs are among the most popular breakfast ingredients globally, yet pork and chicken are favoured in Thai breakfasts. 

Photo by graphixel via Getty Images Signature.

High-fat and high-sugar breakfasts are typical in the USA, while high-carb bread and pastries feature heavily in European dishes.

These high-calorie choices suggest breakfast-eaters are aiming for an energy boost to kickstart their day, but are they any better off?

Are breakfast-eaters smarter?

Throughout the years, ads for children’s cereals have claimed to improve kids’ brain performance. These marketing ploys have a basis in research: significantly higher IQ test results have been recorded in children who eat breakfast almost every day. 

However, it isn’t as simple as ‘kids + breakfast = smart kids’. Young people who go without breakfast are more likely to experience socio-economic deprivation, which is a strong predictor of low academic performance.

Photo by Monkey Business Images via Canva.

Nevertheless, since a nutritious diet is essential for brain development in children, missing an entire meal may disadvantage young people. While it is hard to say whether merely eating any breakfast will make a child more intelligent, a high-quality breakfast packed with essential nutrients is likely to help children meet their recommended daily intake.

Related: A Guide To How These Nutrients Could Potentially Protect Your Brains Health

Affect on mood 

If you’ve experienced a slump in your workday after missing breakfast, you’re not alone. 

Those who regularly don’t eat for a while after waking are associated with a higher risk of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Again, however, the link is not necessarily causal: those with mood disorders may be less likely to eat breakfast because of their mood disorder.

Affect on weight

It may seem logical to argue that breakfast skippers can lose weight more easily because they consume fewer calories. A long-term weight-loss study published in 2002 ignited the debate, reporting that a vast proportion of successful slimmers ate breakfast. 

Photo by rattanakun via Canva.

Since then, the debate has raged on. Unfortunately, there is no clear winner. Surveys such as the 2002 study are sometimes considered unreliable since they rely on participants accurately reporting what they eat. More recently, randomised studies found that participants who did not eat breakfast had a slight advantage in losing weight. 

Healthy Lifestyles

Of course, losing weight isn’t always the route to a healthier lifestyle. Skipping breakfast has also been correlated with other health conditions.

One study showed a much greater risk of narrowed arteries among breakfast-skippers, while another long-term review found a 21% increase in diabetes risk. 

Again, it’s probable that breakfast-eaters are generally healthier anyway. Indeed, breakfast skippers are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and exercise less. Those with unhealthy lifestyles are unlikely to benefit from eating breakfast if they didn’t before.

Photo by Alex Green via Pexels.

The takeaway

The evidence seems to suggest that breakfast isn’t the magical meal that many of us were led to believe. Instead, breakfast is a choice, and those who choose not to eat it are not necessarily unhealthy because they skip it.

protein-rich meal fuelled by fibre, vitamins and minerals is ideal for breakfast eaters. Breakfast-skippers should include these elements in meals throughout the day.