So what’s the deal? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day or what? Some nutritionists say yes — others aren’t so sure. The bottom line? You should probably do what works for you. Eat when you’re hungry. If you’re hungry when you wake up in the morning, then eat breakfast. There are surprising side effects of hunger and plenty of reasons why, yes, breakfast is really important.
Signs you might need some nutrition to fuel your day include headaches, lightheadedness, or difficulty concentrating. You may also want to eat breakfast if you find yourself feeling tired or sluggish. Food does give us energy, after all!
Skipping meals might happen now and then if you get busy or otherwise forget to eat. But intentionally skipping your morning meal isn’t a great idea. You might think you’re saving calories or avoiding unhealthy indulgences, but eating something satisfying for breakfast is probably a better choice. Here’s why.
Do you find yourself feeling energy crashes later in the day? “If you get sleepy in afternoon, get irritable before meals, or get headaches when you skip meals, these are signs your body’s ability to manage your blood sugar is less than stellar,” explains nutritional therapist Catherine Crow. “Usually blood sugar regulation is controlled by the liver and pancreas, but when those organs become over-burdened, blood sugar falls too low.” This, Crow says, triggers your adrenal glands to release stress hormones and signal your liver to break down proteins and fats for energy because there isn’t sugar available. “This can cause a lot of bodily stress and inflammation which is not the way you want to start off your day!” Crow says, “Instead, eat regular meals that include protein, carbohydrates, and fat to help keep your blood sugar and energy levels optimal.”
“Many breakfast skippers avoid breakfast to ‘save calories,’ which can actually backfire,” says Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN, healthy food blogger at Chelsey Amer Nutrition. “If you wait too long to eat when you’re hungry, by the time you sit down to eat you won’t be able to get in touch with appropriate fullness cues, which can lead to overeating.” You’re probably better off eating when you’re hungry. If that’s when you wake up in the morning, eating breakfast is a good idea!
If you don’t wake up hungry, you might be OK skipping breakfast. But, Amer explains, if you are hungry and you ignore your hunger until lunch, you could end up feeling tired and experiencing cravings. “If you go too long without eating when you feel hungry, you may begin to feel sluggish, irritable, and have difficulty focusing,” she says.
“Breakfast is a great opportunity to begin fueling properly for the day,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of “The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.” “Expecting your body to perform throughout the morning without food is like asking your car to drive without gas.” By providing your body with food early in the day, you’re giving it fuel to run.
“As Americans, we often do not consume enough of ‘nutrients of concern,’” Harris-Pincus explains, “which include calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin D and fiber. These are commonly found in breakfast foods (such as fortified whole-grain cereals with milk) that we otherwise usually don’t eat later in the day.” A skipped breakfast is a missed opportunity to get more of the vitamins and minerals you might be missing.
This is especially true if you exercise, says Harris-Pincus. “The key is distributing protein evenly throughout the day to prevent muscle loss as we age and to maximize muscle growth and repair,” she explains. “Research shows that 25 to 35 grams of protein at a time is what we need — with a minimum of 20 grams at breakfast.” If you don’t get enough protein, you might not be left feeling your best. While you may easily get enough protein at other meals, breakfast foods tend to be carbohydrate-heavy and leave protein out. But this isn’t true of all breakfasts — these healthy breakfast options provide ample protein to help fuel your morning.
According to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Meal Timing and Frequency, skipping breakfast could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension. For an extra boost your heart will love, add some of these especially heart-healthy foods to your breakfast.
“Skipping breakfast is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, or the narrowing and hardening of arteries due to a buildup of plaque, according to research by the American College of Cardiology,” says registered dietitian Jackie Arnett Elnahar. “Eating breakfast is a solid step towards being more heart healthy!”
According to a study from 2015, women who skipped breakfast experienced elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. If you’re someone who gets stressed easily, it might be a good idea to eat regular meals throughout the day — including breakfast.
According to some studies, skipping breakfast could significantly increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Of course, this probably is also impacted by what you’re eating at breakfast. Because sugar intake and diabetes are so closely related, choosing a breakfast that has more nutritional value than a sugary cereal or pastry on most days is probably a good idea.
“Eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism,” says registered dietitian Courtney Ferreira. “It sets your blood sugar up for stability all day.” Ferreira notes that what you eat has an effect on your blood sugar and metabolism, as well. “I recommend people start themselves and their metabolism off on the right food but including protein and fat with their breakfast,” she says. “This means they need to look beyond just oatmeal or cereal.” Speaking of oatmeal, you’re probably making yours wrong anyway. But according to Ferreira, one healthy meal idea might be eggs, a cup of berries or other fruit, and a slice of whole grain bread with avocado. That’s just one of many protein-rich breakfasts you can try. For healthy options on busy mornings, these breakfasts can be kept in your freezer and heated up in minutes!
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