An age-old question, answered.
You get a lot of conflicting messages when it comes to the alleged “most important meal of the day.” Breakfast is crucial. No, skip breakfast and have a balanced lunch in order to lose weight. Wait, scratch that, you need to eat breakfast every day if you want to be thin. Is that white bread? Put the white bread down and step away from the table.
Seriously—what’s the bottom line on breakfast? The short answer is yes, you should be eating breakfast every morning to refuel after a night of unintentional fasting (that time called sleep) and get the energy to stay focused during your day, says Melissa Majumdar, senior bariatric dietician for the Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. She tells me it’s a key way of making sure you get the necessary daily nutrients and calories.
“It’s important to fill your tank with gas,” Majumdar says. “We wouldn’t drive our car without fuel, so why would we jumpstart our day without energy?” Some of us think of calories as evil little fat-pods, but we need a good amount of them in order to make it through the day successfully.
Skipping your eggs and toast can also lead to a variety of unexpected consequences. When you nix breakfast, you’re missing opportunities to get your recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals since you’re more likely to make healthier choices at the start of the day, Majumdar says. You could even be damaging your body; a recent small study showed while participants burned more calories on the days they skipped breakfast, they were more at risk for inflammation and glucose imbalance. While skipping breakfast was not usually associated with losing weight—nor was eating breakfast every day associated with weight gain—a regular breakfast routine could be associated with maintaining a healthy weight.
Breakfast, or lack thereof, also affects different people in different ways. On an individual level, Majumdar notes, this first meal of the day can set the precedent for the rest of your 24 hours. Depending on individual factors, you may overcompensate for the lack of morning calories with too many at lunch or dinner. You know this scenario: You skipped breakfast so by the time noon rolls around, your ravenous, deprived psyche chooses the creamy pasta over a salad with protein. Your body can react differently to skipping breakfast over a sustained period, possibly leading to weight gain in women, according to research.
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Also, the content of your breakfast is key to the kind of energy you’re getting to stay lively during the day. Majumdar recommends protein and fiber as staples in your breakfast, which tend to digest slower and give you a longer span of energy, a.k.a. more bang for your buck when it comes to breakfast. She says oatmeal, an egg, and fruit are a powerful trio for all of these needs. That means nixing your hot, sweet strawberry Pop Tart love affair, especially since this sugar-packed, white carb-loaded food can make you hungrier throughout the day.
While eating something might seem better than nothing, the Pop Tart could also trigger you to eat unhealthily for the rest of the day, Majumdar tells me. If your daily food intake is a pastry and a salad, fish, and veggie for rest of your meals, go for it. Majumdar says the big picture on the breakfast debate is calorie related, not meal related. But if that divine pastry created a daily pattern of fat- and sugar-laden decisions—a lunchtime pizza and chocolate cake for dinner, perhaps—you might want to skip it.
“If you’re having a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, you may end up eating more throughout the day because it kind of jump starts things and makes you hungrier,” Majumdar says. “[Have] something balanced like oatmeal with an egg and fruit so you’ve got your protein, your high fiber starch and some fruit or vegetable.”
So eat your breakfast, dammit. It’s good for you even if it’s for reasons you didn’t think about before—or exactly the reasons you thought about before. Whether breakfast is causing you to be healthier or you’re healthier because you eat a balanced breakfast, it’s just a strong move overall. “I take it as an opportunity to refuel your system,” Majumdar says. “We tend to make better choices beginning of the day and I see patients kind of fall apart toward the end the day.”
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