Let’s be honest – a lot of us are interested in nutrition for the purposes of weight loss. It’s understandable, considering a large majority of Americans – 2/3 of us – are overweight, and globally weight gain is on the rise. And even those of us categorized as “normal weight” want to tone up and look better. So it’s really silly that so many of us are skipping breakfast. (Image thanks to Flickr User oosp)
Breakfast has been linked to all kinds of good things. In 2005, researchers found that women who skipped breakfast ate more throughout the day, had higher bad cholesterol levels and were less sensitive to insulin 1. High LDL cholesterol levels and impaired insulin sensitivity are both major risk factors for heart disease, so eating breakfast helped keep women’s hearts healthier.
Breakfast helps your brain, too. Simply eating breakfast is said to improve memory and concentration throughout the day, especially in kids 2. And those of us who eat breakfast are getting lots of nutritional benefits from it, too. Those that eat high-energy breakfasts have higher vitamin and mineral levels, including Vitamin B 3.
Breakfast is supposed to be the meal which kick-starts your day, giving you the energy to tackle your life. Yet still only around 75% of people regularly eat breakfast, and only 80% of kids do. Some surveys have even found up to 75% of teens skip breakfast regularly. People have been touting the benefits of a good breakfast for years, yet it seems their points fall on deaf ears. If you really want to get and stay healthy, it all starts with a good morning meal.
Breakfast and Weight Loss
Perhaps the most interesting benefit of eating breakfast is how it helps with weight management. People of all ages who eat breakfast have lower BMIs and are healthier than those who don’t 4, 5, 6. The worst part is that the most common reason cited for skipping breakfast is weight loss! We think that by cutting those ‘extra calories’ in the AM, we’re helping ourselves lose weight, when in fact we’re doing the exact opposite.
What many of us don’t realize is that the calories we consume first thing in the morning are different from those we consume later in the day. When you first wake up, you’ve essentially starved your body for 8 or more hours.
You need fuel, fast. Your brain is begging for it.
And when it doesn’t get that fuel, it goes on alert, turning on emergency fuel systems and setting your body in “starvation” mode. It starts breaking down muscle tissue for energy, and throughout the day it continues to presume that you might be low on food, so any extra calories are stored as fat to ensure you’ll have back-up energy later. By skipping breakfast, you prime your body to put on more fat and gain more weight. Eating anything in the AM helps calm down that response, meaning our bodies store less fat even if we overeat later on.
Even eating huge, calorie-filled breakfasts with bacon and eggs still help us lose weight – they even help us lose more weight than eating a low-calorie version. That’s because proteins for breakfast make us feel fuller longer, and help cut down the amount of food we eat later in the day 7. Men who eat eggs for breakfast eat less throughout the day than those who ate bagels, even though they consume the same number of calories 8.
Studies have even found that over the long term, eating a big, calorie rich breakfast leads to more weight loss than eating a low-calorie one. Obese women that ate a big breakfast lost almost five times as much weight as low-cal eaters, continuing to shed pounds months after the low-cal breakfast group started putting them back on 9.
Breakfast – it’s just that good for you.
Research just keeps piling up supporting a connection between breakfast and being healthy – losing weight is just an added bonus! By eating well first thing, you improve your brain and your heart, and even lower stress levels. But sometimes it’s hard to make sure we get the nutrition we need. If you’re crunched for time in the morning, make sure you get breakfasts that you can take on the go. Trust me – it’s better to eat something in the morning than nothing at all.
The worst part is that because serotonin levels are high in the AM, you may not feel as hungry as your body really is. As soon as those levels drop, you suddenly start craving the food your body has needed for hours, meaning you binge on snacks and eat more for lunch than you should.
If you’ve ever skipped breakfast, you know what I mean – ten AM hits and all of a sudden you feel like you could eat a horse, and you crave fast energy sources like sugars and carbs. Eating when you wake up prevents this, allowing you to eat healthier throughout the day. So even if you’re not starving, make sure you eat something early on. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!
1. Farshchi, H. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2005; vol 81: 388-396.
2. Wesnes, K.A. et al. Appetite, December 2003; vol 41: 329-331.
3. Preziosi, P. et al. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1999; vol. 18: 171-178.
4. Timlin, M.T. et al. Pediatrics, March 2008; vol. 121: e638-e645.
5. Rampersaud, G. C. et al. Journal of the American Diabetic Association, May 2005; vol. 105: 743-760.
6. Purslow, L.R. et al. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2008; 167:188-192.
7. Leidy H.J. et al. British Journal of Nutrition, 2009; 101: 798-803.
8. Vander Wal JS, et al. International Journal of Obesity, 2008; vol. 32: 1545-1551.
9. Jakubowicz, D. Presentation at the Society for Epidemiology’s Annual Meeting 2008.