Most of us have been told since we first started eating on a three-meal schedule that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, many of us ignore this advice since we don’t really know why it’s important, and skip breakfast more often than not.
The consequences are worse than being a little hungry come mid-morning—not eating breakfast has been directly linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in many studies.
And just think about it—you went seven to eight hours without eating a morsel of food and providing your body with energy. Breakfast literally means “breaking the fast” for a reason. You need to replenish your body with nutrients in order to tackle the day you have before you.
Here are the scientifically backed reasons why everyone, especially those with heart disease, should make eating breakfast as automatic as putting clothes on in the morning.
Healthy breakfast leads to healthy life
Breakfast eaters tend to have better overall diets, consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Conversely, habitual non-breakfast eaters are less likely to meet their daily requirement of essential vitamins and minerals that a simple, healthy breakfast helps to provide, according to Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Many non-breakfast eaters become hungry before lunchtime, but eating healthy may be inconvenient to their mid-morning schedule, causing them to snack on foods high in fat and sugar.
A healthy breakfast stimulates the metabolism, Kari McCloskey, RD, a registered dietitian and personal trainer with Kaiser Permanente, told us. “The body and brain need fuel, and eating breakfast gives you the initial fuel source you need to function properly,” she explained. “A good breakfast would include produce, proteins, grains and a healthy fat source. These foods break down into glucose and fuel your body and brain.”
Eating a healthy breakfast is linked to having a healthier lifestyle in general, including exercising more. “People who regularly eat breakfast tend to be slimmer and healthier but these individuals also typically follow most other recommendations for a healthy lifestyle, so [they] have more balanced diets and take more physical exercise,” said James Betts, PhD, professor in nutrition, metabolism, and statistics at the University of Bath in Bath, England.
This boost in a healthy lifestyle may be because eating a healthy breakfast sets you up mentally for a healthy day. “Psychologically, you know you started the day off right” when eating a healthy breakfast, Susan Kraus, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Hackensack University Medical Center, told Everyday Health. “When eating breakfast becomes part of your regimen, you start having ownership of it, become more consistent, and feel that you’re making a change for the better.”
Healthy breakfast can help weight loss
Experts say that eating a healthy breakfast can help you lose that pesky cellulite. The Mayo Clinic says that eating breakfast can spark weight loss and healthy weight maintenance by reducing hunger. On the other hand, they say that “the prolonged fasting that occurs when you skip breakfast can increase your body’s insulin response, which in turn increases fat storage and weight gain.”
“If you don’t eat breakfast, your body’s metabolism will slow down since there is no energy coming in,” McCloskey told us. “When this happens the body will conserve your long-term storage of energy which is your fat storage, and burn calories from the muscle first.”
In other words, when you skip breakfast your body holds onto fat and gets rid of muscle. Isn’t that just peachy.
Skipping breakfast could lead to diabetes
A study of around 30,000 men found that forgoing breakfast raised the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 21 percent. Another study involving women found that those under 65 years old who skipped breakfast even just a few times a week were 28 percent more likely to develop diabetes than regular breakfast eaters.
Eating breakfast or not eating breakfast affects the way you metabolize glucose, or blood sugar, throughout the whole day. Many people who skip breakfast overeat at lunch or dinner because the prolonged abstinence leads to larger boosts of “hunger hormones” like ghrelin. Overeating then causes surges and drops in blood glucose.
“Over time, if your pancreas is constantly producing insulin to compensate for high levels of glucose, it will burn out and you’ll develop diabetes,” says Eric Rimm, Sc.D., professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
No breakfast linked to heart problems
A 2013 Harvard study found that eating breakfast may be essential for heart health. The study discovered that male participants who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent greater risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease. The researchers found that the men were hungrier during the day and ate more food at night, which could be what led to the metabolic changes 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 author Leah Cahill, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow in Harvard’s Department of Nutrition.
There are some studies that contradict our belief in the importance of breakfast. Some of these studies, like the 2014 Bath Breakfast Project, argue that skipping breakfast doesn’t make you overeat later and that eating breakfast doesn’t help you lose weight. But these studies are very small and were performed over a short period of time.
All in all “it’s a really simple message. Breakfast is an important meal,” said Dr. Rimm.