Famously described at the most important meal of the day, breakfast is hailed for a bringing a swathe of health benefits. Eating a balanced meal first thing — such as porridge, eggs or yoghurt with muesli — stops you unnecessarily grazing, research suggests.
Meanwhile, dozens of studies have shown skipping food first thing has been linked with a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, nutritionists have now busted the mantra that breakfast provides the ‘best possible start‘ to the day. In fact, ditching it cuts sugar intake, reduces hunger levels and eases tiredness, they say.
Eating a balanced meal first thing — such as porridge, eggs or yoghurt with muesli — provides sustenance for the day ahead, reduces the risk of snacking on unhealthy food and lowers the risk of being overweight, some experts say
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• Thirty grams of fibre a day. This is the same as eating all of the following: Five portions of fruit and vegetables, two whole-wheat cereal biscuits, two thick slices of wholemeal bread and a large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks), choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink six to eight cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Research has been divided on whether or not people should eat breakfast.
A plethora of observational studies — which cannot confirm a direct link — have suggested that those who do eat breakfast are more likely to be slim.
Some advocates of the breakfast theory believe this is because people who eat have more energy to be active during the day.
They are also left fuller for longer, which makes them less likely to snack and helps with healthy food choices throughout the day, researchers say.
Studies have also linked skipping breakfast with a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, strokes and high blood pressure. Experts don’t yet understand the mechanism behind this.
The NHS tells people ‘do not skip breakfast’ as one of its eight ‘tips for healthy eating’ — warning it provides vital nutrients.
However, throwing doubt on the health benefits of breakfast, a 2019 review of nearly a dozen studies, published in the British Medical Journal, found skipping breakfast has no effect on weight.
And a growing number of studies have found that not eating first thing in the morning can actually aide weight loss — if it is done to support eating within a time-restricted window of eight to 12 hours.
Research has linked eating all meals within an eight to 12 hour slot — and fasting for the remaining 16 to 12 hours in a day — can help people slim down by limiting snacking and late-night eating.
Dr Federica Amati, a nutrition scientist at ZOE — a health research company that offers personalised diet advice based on at-home tests — told MailOnline that the ‘blanket recommendation’ that everyone should eat breakfast ‘doesn’t come from any specific scientific basis’.
The meal is not needed to kick-start the day or wake up, as the internal body clock ‘secretes the chemicals that help us wake up and get out of bed — whether we have breakfast or not’, she said.
Results from large studies which find breakfast-eaters are the healthiest are often down to other factors rather than the meal itself, such as sleeping patterns, according to Dr Amati.
On top of this, urging people to eat breakfast first thing, when many aren’t hungry, ‘usually results in grabbing something quick and convenient’, she said.
Toast with jam, ultra-processed breakfast cereals, snack bars, pastries and smoothies all provide ‘plenty of available sugars but not enough protein, fibre and healthy fats to be considered a complete meal’, Dr Amati said.
For example, a 45g serving of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Chocolate Clusters has nearly half of an adult’s sugar allowance but just five per cent of fibre and seven per cent of protein recommended per day.
Dr Amati said: ‘Eating a high-sugar meal on an empty stomach will often result in many of us feeling hungry and tired within a couple of hours of the meal when all of the sugar has been absorbed and our body is left wanting for other nutrients.
‘It would be best to skip this kind of breakfast and have a meal with eggs, mushrooms, greens, tomatoes, beans and some whole grains when feeling hungry a little later instead.
‘Of course, if you wake up hungry, the same applies: it’s best to have a complete and nourishing meal that will keep you energised for longer in the day.’
So skipping breakfast is not ‘a problem for everyone’, Dr Amati added.
‘More important than eating breakfast at a certain time is to make sure the first meal of the day is a complete and nutritious one,’ she added.
Professor Jonathan Johnston, an expert in chronobiology and physiology at the University of Surrey, told MailOnline: ‘The breakfast literature is quite complex, to a large degree because people who habitually skip breakfast often have other unhealthy characteristics.’
These include being less healthy, eating a poorer diet, regularly skipping meals and binge eating, studies show.
Professor James Betts, an expert in metabolic physiology at the University of Bath, told MailOnline: ‘Most people seem under the impression that it is incredibly important to have breakfast every day.’
But he noted that studies into the importance of eating breakfast are ‘far less clear than people realise’.
Professor Betts said: ‘Most evidence generally shows little or no negative health effects of missing breakfast…
‘Therefore, the good — or maybe disappointing — news is that whether or how much you eat in the morning won’t in itself have a huge effect on health for most people.’
He added: ‘Whether any given person is likely to benefit (from eating breakfast) will depend on what benefits they are hoping to achieve and how healthy their diet and lifestyle is already.’