The King of all Meals?
Posted on 17th November 2022 at 16:09
Does starting the day with a decent breakfast really matter?
It’s taken as a given by most that Breakfast should be an integral part of a healthy diet, supposedly it helps kick start the metabolism, gives you more mental clarity throughout the day, improves your energy levels and prevents you from overeating later.
On the flip side of that, missing this cornerstone is taken as an almost certain sign of a poor diet, the person who skips breakfast is also inactive, probably eats a lot of junk food, likely watches too much porn, and suffers with genital diseases as yet undiscovered in medical journals.
But is this staple of nutritional dogma, correct?
The truth is somewhat more complexed and nuanced, as is often the case when tackling sacred nutrition principles.
You can be healthy or unhealthy, with or without breakfast.
You can lose weight, with or without breakfast.
Eating first thing in the day does not kick start your metabolism, it may help you feel fuller later, but it won’t make much difference to overall calories.
Some breakfast might help with feeling fuller than others, a bowl of Kellogg’s Krave cereal with full fat milk is about 400 calories, the same number of calories as an avocado with two poached eggs, but most likely with different effects on hunger, mood and energy levels etc.
What does the research show?
I’ll try to avoid a science overload here, but it’s important that when people say something is evidence based, they can back it up with credible studies from respectable journals.
I’ll start by stating that there is a lot of research showing that people who eat breakfast are more healthy than non-breakfast eaters, however this harks back to my earlier point, the type of people who eat breakfast are generally those who seek good health. The type of people who also eat more veg, less junk food and are more active.
Why would people who want to be healthier eat breakfast? Because they think it’s a healthier thing to do, and no wonder, even just recently a widely publicised study was reported in the media citing that people who ate breakfast had a two and a half times increase in metabolism and reduced appetite, however the nitty gritty beyond the headlines was less impressive.
Participants in the study ate either a high calorie breakfast and low-calorie dinner, or vice versa, then at a later point in the study they did the opposite.
Those who ate a bigger breakfast, had a larger diet induced thermogenesis effect (the way in which their bodies burned calories).
This was shown to be two and a half times more for the bigger breakfast condition than the larger dinner. Interesting to be sure, the authors suggested that this should be advised for those looking to lose weight, which is odd really, because the total calories burned wasn’t that impressive.
The higher calorie breakfast led to about .17 calories per minute more over three hours, slightly less than 30 calories total. If this was the only change made, then it would only take people two hundred and thirty-three days to lose a kilogram of weight.
Another study done in 1997 by Keim et al had participants consume 70% of their daily energy intake either as breakfast or dinner. Those who had the most calories early on lost a little more weight, but those eating most of the calories later in the day had a greater loss of fat mass.
Again, this wasn’t a significant difference, and more factors such as training, overall diet etc might account for these differences.
Many studies report just how much a non-issue breakfast is in the greater scheme of things, for example the bath breakfast study in 2014 concluded that
“Contrary to popular belief, there was no metabolic adaptation to breakfast (resting metabolic rate stable), with limited subsequent suppression of appetite”.
Another study by Dhurandhar et al in 2014 investigated “A recommendation to eat or skip breakfast” and concluded that contrary to widely espoused views, had no discernible effect on weight loss in free-living adults who were attempting to lose weight.”
This study was perhaps the most interesting of all, 283 participants were randomised to either eat breakfast, or skip breakfast, over 16 weeks, after this time weight loss wasn’t very significant, and didn’t differ much between those who ate breakfast, and those who didn’t.
Those who ate breakfast before and then skipped it, and those who skipped breakfast and then started eating it, both lost the same amount of weight on average, suggesting that just mixing things up is enough to facilitate weight loss.
In 2011 the Israeli Police force were brought in to solve the age-old breakfast conundrum once and for all. “Thank the heavens, a hero finally emerges” the rest of the World could be heard whispering. Led by Sofer et al the officers spent six months following one of two experimental diets, the first one in which almost seventy percent of daily carbohydrates were eat at dinnertime, vs a more calorie-controlled diet split evenly through meals and snacks. Calories, protein and carbs were about equal in the two groups, the main difference was just the higher calorie/ carb meal at night time in one of the conditions.
Those who ate most of their carbs later in the day Lost more weight (-11 kg vs -9 kg), they also lost more body fat (-7% vs -5%;), they stayed fuller, reduced their waistline, and improved their hormonal profile.
Based on this alone we might lead to the conclusion if we are to have breakfast, then eating a protein-based breakfast is the way to go but hold onto your Atkin starved horses for a moment, breakfast in the experimental group was basically a glass of low-fat milk, some nuts, and then an unsweetened yoghurt mid-morning.
The controlled group on the other hand just had some bread and biscuits, and despite this still lost weight over the six-month period, however it’s little wonder they felt hungrier and more bloated.
When skipping breakfast is a good idea
If you can handle it, then skipping breakfast might be an easy way for you to reduce calories, you’ll still need to be careful you don’t overcompensate later, but for many people this simple step can make a big impact on their waistline.
Breakfast skipping might also be a good option if you follow a flexible dieting program, a set-up which isn’t too rigid and gives you the freedom to alter your diet according to how your day is going, how you’re feeling and what kind of activities your taking part in.
So, if you must be up at 5am for an early start at work, then like many people you might just not feel hungry enough for breakfast, and in your case waiting a few hours till mid-morning for a healthy snack might work better. On a weekend once you’ve had a decent night’s sleep and a lie in you might have more time and more appetite for a wholesome start to the day.
Potentially skipping breakfast might be a good strategy as part of a wider fasting plan which gives you an eating window and allows your stomach more time to rest and repair. There is some evidence that fasts can help reduce inflammation, cardiovascular markers, improve weight loss and help with digestive issues. But this isn’t really for everyone, and the evidence isn’t strong enough to suggest that this can’t be achieved just through a more rounded healthy diet.
When skipping breakfast might not be the best idea
When chasing them gainz bro.
Muscle recovery, growth and retention is dependent upon regular feedings of protein, especially leucine. Once the muscles are full, they can’t take on anymore, therefore regular feedings through the day help optimise hypertrophy (muscle gainz).
When you’re an absolute twat without breakfast.
If skipping breakfast makes you hangry, then don’t do it, for the sake of everyone around you, clearly there are better ways for you to improve health.
Kids breakfast clubs
Some evidence on kid’s breakfast clubs showed that when kids had access to calories first thing, they performed much better at School, behaviour improved, they grew at the expected rate and got better grades.
This might be more related to the schools in low-income areas where not every family has either the resources or understanding to provide a well-rounded meal to their children, in my time in various roles, I’ve known kids sent to School on a pack of crisp and little else. If they’re able to get hold of more calories, even if it’s from sugary cereals, bread, and jam, then it’s more likely to have a positive impact on the development and wellbeing of the child.
If you do eat breakfast, what should you have?
The problem with the belief that breakfast is healthy, is that it presumes all breakfast are created equal, so long as you eat something first thing then it doesn’t matter if its pop tarts or kippers, just get your metabolism going. This just isn’t the case.
The same things which make a breakfast healthy are the same things which help all meals healthy.
To help you feel fuller, ensure optimal muscle recovery, growth, retention, improve hormonal profile, hair quality, overall sexiness and “I would” score.
Not an absolute essential at breakfast unless you have some big endurance activity planned that day, otherwise it’s up to you.
Starting your day with some quality carbs such as oats, fruit, non or low sugary wheat based cereal etc, is a fantastic start to help get your digestive system rolling and ensure you have quality fibre adding some much-needed bulk.
Some fats as we all know are healthy and good, they absolve us off sin and raise our mortal spirits skyward when we come to pass. The variety of mono, Polly, omegas, and essential role of saturated fats is something I have gone into at various points in the past, they play a crucial role in brain health, eye health, hormonal health, feeling more satiated, providing fuel for daily energy, insulating organs and much, much more.
Fats are also much higher in calories per gram than either carbs or protein, and it probably isn’t a great idea to get them from refined and processed foods too often, so pork sausages occasionally, sure. Everyday? Not a great idea.
Vitamins, nutrients, phytochemicals etc.
Basically, fruit and veg, providing the stuff we need to function optimally and glow like frog in the night in Sellafield.
My suggestions for a healthy breakfast are as follows (please feel free to send me your suggestions, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes).
Avocado, eggs (if you say smashed Avocado, you’re basically asking to be throat punched).
Bacon medallions, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli stalks.
Smoked mackerel, spinach, grilled tomatoes
Grilled halloumi, watercress, and cucumber
Lightly fried grapefruit in a little butter with cinnamon, I’d also add a protein shake on the side as this contains none.
Oats, protein shake, berries, banana. Can be made night before and left in the fridge without any cooking. I usually use water but can be made with semi skimmed milk. A little peanut butter also helps this brekkie feel more satiating and from experience can help reduce hunger later on. Whether or not this is down to the fat or just extra calories I couldn’t say.
Omelette- any veg you like, a little cheese on top, grill, watch it bubble, enjoy.
Kedgeree, my absolute favourite if I have the time to make it. Great with some crème fraiche and sweet chilli sauce.
Pancakes with a sauce of heated berries, reduced and a little honey added.
Cereals such as Weetabix, shredded wheat, just right or all bran are also a good option for most people who want something quick and don’t want to mess about. They’re a good source of fibre, low in sugar and calories and providing enough milk is used provide a little protein also.
I hope this article proves to be a useful resource for your health journey, the myth of breakfast is one that I do genuinely come across quite often, I've worked as a top personal trainer in Hull for nearly twenty years now, and I can recall one client who had to face a barrage of concern from work colleagues when I suggested he cut it out to help lose weight. It did help him trim, just like it did for many other clients I've worked with, and he discovered that he didn’t really feel hungry in the mornings anyway and breakfast was just a bind for calories he didn’t really need.
On other occasions I’ve suggested that clients do eat breakfast, as it helped with their overall goal to ensure optimal amounts of protein and did help control their appetite better throughout the day by ensuring they didn’t get too hungry and go straight for unhealthy snacks at breaktime mid-morning.
Whether you do or don’t have breakfast, it should suit your personal circumstances, overall dietary plan and long term goal, nobody should be forcing themselves to have something they don’t want because they think it’s healthy, or skipping it for the same misbelief.
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