We have all had it hammered into our heads. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s so common a belief that when I questioned my professor as to why that was, in front of a class full of people, no one acknowledged or even attempted to answer me. I asked again louder and was met a second time with deafening silence. While everyone was swallowing my professor’s words as fact, without so much to wash them down as the most cursory explanation, I decided to investigate this seemingly ubiquitous nutrition claim further.
Despite tons of research, scientists have yet to agree on when the best time to enjoy your first meal of the day it truly is. Although studies show that children perform better on task-oriented behaviors when they’ve eaten an early morning meal, no such evidence is available for adults. Contrary to popular thought, there hasn’t been any conclusive study linking eating breakfast to greater health. Even when studying healthy weight and weight maintenance, researchers still can’t say for sure.
Interestingly though, some research has indicated that eating within a window of a few hours (studies looked at ranges between 8-12 hours) during the day might provide health benefits. For example, mice who have been fed time-restricted diets have had healthier weights, greater muscle mass and improved cognition over their counterparts who were allowed to take their meals anytime.
Scientists believe this has to do with a time limit on the effectiveness of digestive enzymes. Once the window of effectiveness for these enzymes has passed, poor insulin response and other metabolic issue arise. The study of time-restricted feeding has positive indications for those who skip breakfast as long as they don’t eat late into the night.
Additionally, for those concerned about several diverse nutritional challenges, this type of diet has proven to be a therapeutic form of disease management.
So what of us adults who never wake up hungry? Registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Leslie Bonci suggests that a person’s ideal first meal time is a matter of preference. Bonci adds that this preference generally has a basis in our daily routines.
For example, those with an hour-long commute followed by eight hours of sitting at a desk may not need to eat right after waking up. On the other hand, persons with jobs containing much physical labor are likely to require some fuel early in the day.
Generally, nutritionists suggest that people eat when they’re hungry and not to fit some socially devised eating schedule. Eating when you’re hungry can help curb overeating and keep you from experiencing long stretches of hunger. Just be sure to get a healthy and balanced diet when you do decide to have a meal.
Regardless of whether you eat in the morning, most nutritionists agree that early morning water intake should be part of your routine. Bochi emphasizes hydration upon waking up whether you eat or not. With the debate ongoing it’s safe to say for now that you can skip breakfast if you want to and eat once you’re hungry.