We speak to a dietitian about weight loss and the most important meal of the day.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Kajsa Ernestam
You will have heard the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But with intermittent fasting diets gaining popularity, is it really crucial to eat first thing in the morning or is skipping breakfast the secret to weight loss?
Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at the global health app Lifesum, separates fact from fiction when it comes to skipping breakfast.
First things first, what is intermittent fasting? The term is used to describe eating patterns that cycle between a fasting and non-fasting period. During the fasting period, you either severely restrict your calorie intake, or don’t consume any food at all. The emphasis is on when foods are eaten, and there are several variations to this type of eating regime.
Periodic fasting diets involve eating within a certain hourly window each day. For example, those following the 16:8 diet would fast for 16 hours a day and eat within an eight-hour window. For many, this means skipping breakfast and eating lunch and dinner.
Is it OK to skip breakfast?
In general, there are no benefits to skipping breakfast, or any meal throughout the day. If you are eating according to The 5:2 diet and The 16:8 diet, make sure you have a balanced food intake when you eat, and it is also good to consult with a dietitian or your GP if you wish to change your diet.
By keeping your food intake balanced and eating throughout the day, you are giving your body the fuel you need to keep you going until evening, and as a result, you will have enough energy.
How many meals a day should we eat?
By eating consistently you keep up your blood sugar levels. The intestinal systems also need to rest sometimes, so I advice you eat to your three main meals and have two to three snacks per day.
In general, there are no benefits to skipping breakfast, or any meal throughout the day.
If you prefer to get up earlier and exercise in the morning and don’t have time to eat beforehand, it’s very individual if you feel that you can exercise on an empty stomach or not. It might be good to eat something small before your workout (depending on the type of activity and intensity) to add some energy before your workout and to avoid breaking down the body mass/ muscles.
The health risks of skipping breakfast
There are a few ways in which forgoing breakfast can negatively impact your health:
Blood sugar levels
After sleeping all night, you need breakfast in order to bring up your blood sugar levels and your energy, whether you have diabetes or not. Eating in the morning is important because you have been fasting all night while sleeping, meaning that the energy layers in the liver are used. In order to give the body new energy and not to take from your own body storage, it is vital to add energy in form of breakfast.
Drops and spikes in your blood sugar can also affect your mood, making you more nervous, grumpy, or angry. Even if you don’t feel overly hungry, it is important to at least have something light, as that will help restore glycogen.
To eat a rich fibre-rich breakfast, containing healthy fat and a lean protein source, helps to avoid blood sugar lows and peaks after the meal, related to insulin secretion.
A high fibre intake can also be preventive for diseases such as type 2 diabetes. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) looked at the role of fibre and recommendations (2015) for adults over 16 should have 30g per day.
Reduced cognitive function
Numerous studies conducted with children, teenagers and adults found that eating a healthy and filling breakfast helps to improve short-term memory and cognitive function. Choosing to skip breakfast in the morning will make it more difficult to recall information and will prevent you from concentrating, which is counter-productive if you are working or studying.
Breakfast and weight management
Many people believe that skipping breakfast will help them cut a few calories and thus lose weight. However, missing breakfast can actually have the opposite effect. Ideally, in order to keep your metabolism working smoothly, you should eat nutritional food every four hours, which is why it is so important to eat after ‘fasting’ all night.
There are several studies that is in favour for eating breakfast for a healthy body function. In 2017, a review in the journal Circulation found a link between skipping breakfast and being overweight.
However, there are also studies that shows that eating or not eating breakfast has little effect on obesity and overweight. But it is important to remember that it is not always about your weight. It’s also about vitamins, minerals, and muscle mass, to make your body function and feel good.
What we must not forget is that the nutritional content of the food throughout our day is paramount. Skipping breakfast may cause us to believe we can have a complete ‘hall pass’ on what we eat later in the day and this could encourage a pattern of unhealthy eating.