Thinking About Skipping Breakfast? Why It's Not A Healthy Idea For Most People
Breakfast is often dubbed the most important meal of the day, and for good reason. Not only can getting a healthy breakfast in your belly help set your day off on the right foot, but it may also be associated with a few bonus health benefits.
We reached out to experts for more details on how a nutritious morning meal can boost your health, what happens when you forgo breakfast, and how to eat a balanced breakfast on a busy schedule. Thinking about skipping breakfast? You'll want to read this first.
The importance of breakfast
First, a little Breakfast 101: Breakfast is defined as the first meal of the day, which is usually eaten1 in the morning, within two to three hours of waking up.
"While there is some debate in the literature about whether we must consume breakfast, we do have evidence that eating breakfast regularly is associated with reduced risk of cardiometabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes2 and high blood pressure3," says Desiree Nielsen, R.D., a registered dietitian and author of Good for Your Gut.
Beyond disease prevention, making time for a meal first thing in the morning might also offer several other benefits, especially when it comes to metabolism, energy levels, and muscle building. Here are a few science-backed perks of consuming a nutritious breakfast:
It stabilizes blood sugar and increases energy.
According to Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN, a registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition NYC, eating breakfast in the morning can help prevent a sudden surge in blood sugar levels4 later in the day after a prolonged fasting period, leading to improved blood sugar control.
Plus, some studies even show that a nutritious breakfast could keep blood sugar steady long beyond lunchtime. "Research suggests that a protein-rich breakfast, like two slices of sprouted grain toast with natural peanut butter, or a green smoothie with protein powder, can help promote more stable blood sugars5 throughout the day," says Nielsen.
In addition to stabilizing blood sugar levels, a balanced breakfast can also provide fuel to help you power through your day and supply your cells with a steady stream of energy.
On the other hand, forgoing food first thing in the morning can cause blood sugar levels6 to plummet, leaving you feeling sluggish and weak.
It can fine-tune focus.
Grabbing a quick meal before school or work might be especially beneficial for brain function.
According to Shapiro, your brain requires energy7 to function at its optimal level, which is why a well-rounded breakfast is so crucial. Plus, a well-rounded breakfast can help keep your stomach from grumbling.
"Since the sense of hunger can interrupt concentration, eating breakfast helps you stay focused," adds Shapiro.
Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that regular consumption of breakfast could boost cognitive performance8 and aid academic achievement. Furthermore, one recent pilot study even found that eating breakfast could enhance brain function9 in college students with and without ADHD.
It may improve appetite control.
When it comes to weight management, the role of breakfast is controversial.
While there's no clear consensus on whether or not eating breakfast can impact your waistline10, it can help increase feelings of fullness. In fact, one study in adolescent girls found that eating breakfast reduced appetite11 and did not increase overall daily calorie intake compared to skipping breakfast.
On the other hand, research on whether or not eating breakfast can help bump up metabolism has turned up mixed results. However, while studies show that breakfast doesn't have a significant impact on the number of calories that you burn at rest, skipping breakfast could lead to less physical activity12 during the day. Theoretically, this could translate to fewer calories burned, which could slow weight loss, but more research is still needed.
RELATED: Trying To Rev Up Your Metabolism? These Targeted Supplements Can Help
It could promote muscle growth.
When paired with resistance training, fitting enough protein into your diet can help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, aka muscle growth. As a leading protein researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., previously explained on the mindbodygreen podcast, distributing your protein intake throughout the day (starting with at least 30 grams during breakfast) is a healthier strategy than trying to cram in all your protein later in the day.
This is especially important if you prefer hitting the gym right after rolling out of bed in the morning. Regardless of whether you choose to eat breakfast before or after an early morning workout, consuming high-quality protein within a few hours of exercise can maximize muscle growth13, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Breakfast foods to avoid
Just as important as making time for breakfast is choosing the right foods. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, Nielsen recommends pairing high-fiber fruits, veggies, and whole grains with a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats.
On the other hand, it may be best to limit your intake of processed breakfast meats high in sodium or saturated fat, along with foods high in refined carbs, which can spike blood sugar levels14.
A few examples of breakfast foods you may be better off skipping include:
- Sugary cereals
- Baked goods, such as muffins or pastries
- White bread
- Pancakes or waffles
- Sweetened yogurt
- Fried foods, such as hashbrowns
However, enjoying the occasional sweet breakfast treat from time to time is totally fine. "It is the overall pattern of how you eat that matters most, and choosing nutrient-dense whole foods, with a balance of slow-burn carbohydrates, protein, and fat that will help you feel most full and satisfied and energized all morning long," says Nielsen.
Risks of skipping breakfast
While it's not totally clear where the idea originated that forgoing breakfast is better for your waistline, the science on the subject isn't so simple. Furthermore, not only can skipping breakfast make it more challenging to fit in all the nutrients that you need each day, but it could also have these other negative effects on health:
It could contribute to weight gain.
"For people who are on a weight loss journey, it may seem like skipping breakfast means you are eating less, but that isn't necessarily how it pans out," explains Nielsen.
A 2016 study evaluating the effects of breakfast on energy balance15 actually found that participants who skipped breakfast ended up eating more calories later in the day to make up for it. Plus, some other research has found that regularly skipping breakfast16 could be associated with a greater risk of being overweight or having obesity.
These results haven't been consistent across the board, and other studies have found that breakfast has little to no effect when it comes to weight management17. Therefore, more in-depth studies are still needed to understand how your morning meal may impact your weight.
It can cause food cravings.
According to Nielsen, skipping meals can lead to food preoccupation and increase cravings for calorie-dense foods. "A common dietary pattern I see—even when weight loss is not a goal—is people who skip breakfast, eat only lightly at lunch, and then eat all night long. This can lead to digestive issues and low energy throughout the day," she explains, not to mention problems with sleep.
Compared to eating a balanced breakfast, skipping breakfast has been shown to increase hunger18 and the desire to eat. What's more, skipping breakfast could throw levels of certain hormones out of whack. In fact, one review found that eating breakfast actually raises levels of certain hormones like GLP-1 and PYY, which are responsible for controlling food intake19.
It could take a toll on athletic performance.
Although some swear by fasted cardio—or exercising on an empty stomach—it may not be the best choice for all types of exercise. For instance, though breakfast may not impact short, aerobic activities, eating before exercise has been shown to improve performance20 during prolonged workouts.
Additionally, according to a 2020 review, intermittent fasting during high-intensity exercises21 should be avoided altogether for endurance athletes. For this reason, filling up on a healthy breakfast before heading to the gym might be a better option for long or intense workouts.
It could negatively affect the impact of caffeine.
It's a good idea to have breakfast alongside your morning cup of joe. This is because coffee is absorbed more quickly22 when your stomach is empty, which could enhance its effects to an uncomfortable degree, especially for those who are sensitive to caffeine.
Because of its acidity, chugging coffee on an empty stomach could also aggravate digestive issues23, such as heartburn. Especially if you're prone to anxiety or caffeine jitters after a few cups of coffee, it may be best to stick to decaf until you're able to eat.
What about if you're fasting?
Some variations of intermittent fasting (like 16:8 fasts or 18:6 fasts) involve simply skipping breakfast in the morning and eating a late lunch.
However, according to Steve Hendricks, a fasting expert, journalist, and author of The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting, it may be best to rearrange your schedule while intermittent fasting so that you can enjoy a balanced breakfast in the morning.
"Nearly every fasting study24 that has compared skipping breakfast to skipping dinner has found it's far healthier to skip dinner—or rather, to move dinner earlier in the day," Hendricks says.
"In study after study, those who eat in an early window, say from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., are substantially healthier than those who eat in a window of the same length but later, say from noon to 8 p.m.," he adds.
In fact, research consistently shows that aligning your eating schedule with your natural circadian rhythm through time-restricted eating can optimize metabolic health25, leading to increased weight loss, enhanced insulin sensitivity, and improved heart health.
How to avoid skipping breakfast
If finding time for breakfast feels like a hassle, there are several steps you can take to make it a little easier. Here are a few expert-backed tips to help get you going:
Blend up a breakfast smoothie.
Smoothies can be a convenient, timesaving option for hectic mornings. "I love a smoothie because it's the easiest way to get a whole bunch of good stuff into your body in five minutes," says Nielsen.
Try loading up your blender with leafy greens, fresh fruit, and a scoop of protein powder to squeeze some extra nutrients into your diet. You can also whip up your smoothie the night before and transfer it to a jar for an easy grab-and-go breakfast.
Recipes to try: The Perfect Green Smoothie Formula + 5 Delicious Recipes
Stock up on healthy breakfast staples.
Shapiro recommends keeping nutritious breakfast ingredients on hand to help streamline your morning routine. Greek yogurt, oatmeal, milk, whole-wheat bread, and nut butter are a few versatile options to grab on your next grocery trip. Shapiro also advises hard-boiling a batch of eggs and storing them in the fridge to enjoy throughout the week.
Recipes to try: Antioxidant-Packed Cranberry Oatmeal, Bruschetta Avocado Toast
Try making meals in advance.
Setting aside some time in your schedule to prepare a few tasty, fridge-friendly meals might help if you're pressed for time during the week. "Meal-prep breakfasts on Sunday and put an alarm in your phone—or even a sticky note on your door—so you remember to grab it each morning," suggests Nielsen.
Recipes to try: Lemon-Chia Seed Muffins, Butternut Squash Pancakes, Tofu Breakfast Bites
Know your options.
If eating breakfast at home is a no-go, figuring out a few options for when you're out and about might be helpful. Shapiro points out that coffee shops like Starbucks often offer healthy choices, such as whole-wheat breakfast wraps, egg bites, and protein boxes. Plus, you can usually find hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, or yogurt at corner stores or delis if you're in a pinch.
Eat something light.
If you don't find yourself feeling hungry until it's almost lunchtime, try sticking to a light meal or snack in the morning. Shapiro recommends whipping up a cup of "elevated coffee" by stirring in some collagen peptides, almond milk, and a bit of MCT oil for extra protein and healthy fats.
She also suggests keeping a few healthy granola bars or energy bars on hand but emphasizes that you should check the ingredients label carefully to keep your intake of added sugars in check.
Recipes to try: Chocolate Collagen Coffee
Are there benefits to skipping breakfast?
Some people may prefer skipping breakfast to save time on busy mornings. However, research suggests that eating a balanced breakfast may be tied to improved diet quality, decreased appetite, and better blood sugar control.
Can skipping breakfast reduce belly fat?
The jury's still out on whether or not eating breakfast has any impact on weight gain or belly fat. While some studies have found no effect, other research suggests that skipping breakfast could be linked to an increased risk of overweight or obesity.
What are the disadvantages of not eating breakfast?
Skipping breakfast can make it more challenging to meet your nutritional needs. It might also increase food cravings and appetite and could negatively affect performance for long or intense workouts.
Enjoying a well-rounded meal in the morning can increase your intake of valuable nutrients. If you don't have time to whip up breakfast before heading out the door each day, stocking up on a few staples, preparing some fridge-friendly meals in advance, and knowing your options when you're on the go can help you start your day right. Work some fiber and protein into your breakfast to help ensure it keeps you fueled through the morning.
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and writer based in San Francisco. She holds a master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and an undergraduate degree in Dietetics.
Rachael works as a freelance writer and editor for several health and wellness publications. She is passionate about sharing evidence-based information on nutrition and health and breaking down complex topics into content that is engaging and easy to understand.
When she's not writing, Rachael enjoys experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, reading, gardening, and spending time with her husband and dogs.