Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?
- Who started saying it?
- Is breakfast good for your health?
Since I started doing intermittent fasting a year ago, I’ve been skipping breakfast every day. But for some reason, I always felt a little guilty about it. I always thought skipping breakfast is really bad for your health, and you’re not going to have much energy throughout the day if you do. Then I wondered, why do I feel this way? Where did I get this idea that breakfast is crucial?
It was from my mum. She always said to me that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you skip it, you can’t focus on work or studying. She always made sure I had breakfast even though I was never hungry in the morning.
As a kid, I truly believed almost everything my parents told me. But, that was until I started living alone. As a grown-up, I now know that not everything my parents told me is necessarily true, including the idea that breakfast is super important. Doing intermittent fasting, and consequently skipping breakfast, made me realise that maybe breakfast is not as important as they made it sound like. Despite the claim that you will run out of energy if you don’t have breakfast, I always feel absolutely fine or even have more energy throughout the day. Furthermore, I’ve had no problem concentrating on my work and studying either.
As I tell this experience to my friends, I noticed it wasn’t just my mum who said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but my friends’ parents as well. Apparently, this idea is common wisdom. So, where did it come from?
Where It All Started
The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day wasn’t common wisdom until the 20th century. Before that, people often had whatever they had around for breakfast. But, there are three factors that led to a change in people’s attitudes towards breakfast.
- Fear of indigestion
In the wake of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, more and more people started working in factories rather than farms. Unlike farming labour, work in factories is sedentary or, if not, only standing in one place. Such working style became a concern for people because they thought heavy breakfast before work could lead to indigestion, which was one of the biggest health preoccupations at that time. As a result, people started to prefer a lighter meal for breakfast.
- Religious beliefs
Around the same time, John Harvey Kellogg, a medical doctor at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, invented corn flakes, which became the well-known cereal brand Kellogg’s. As a member of Seventh-day Adventist Church, Kellogg was a very religious man who believed that masturbation was a mortal sin and eating healthy foods like corn flakes could help. Based on this belief, they pushed the idea that it is important to have a healthy breakfast, especially with cereal.
- Cereal marketing
When scientists discovered vitamins in the early 20th century, cereal brands were quick to fortify their products with vitamins, claiming that their cereal contains all the vitamins.
Cereal was also advertised as a quick yet nutritious breakfast. This ad turned out to be effective because more women were entering the workforce during the war, and they didn’t have much time to cook breakfast for their kids.
The combination of these three factors — fear of indigestion, religious beliefs, and cereal marketing — helped the formation of the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Is Eating Breakfast Good for Your Health?
If “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” a myth that cereal makers sold to us, is it actually not important at all?
Well, researches show mixed results. Some suggest that eating breakfast is crucial for your health. For instance, one research shows skipping breakfast is associated with increased risks of heart disease and type II diabetes. This may be because cereal — probably the most common breakfast in the West — is often fortified with vitamins, which can help alleviate the risks of these diseases. In fact, another study shows people who have breakfast regularly have higher fiber and micronutrient intakes such as vitamin C, iron and calcium.
On the other hand, some studies find having breakfast, particularly one with cereal, can be harmful. This is because some cereals contain so much sugar. Research finds that some cereals contain more than three-quarters of the recommended daily amount of sugars in a portion. Eating too much sugary food can reduce insulin sensitivity, which increases the risk of developing health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Then, what types of breakfast are good for your health? Unfortunately, there is no consensus as to what we should eat for breakfast. But, a balanced breakfast surely helps to start the day.
Breakfast tends to get more attention than lunch or dinner, but maybe what’s more important is how we eat all day long, not just one meal.