Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

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“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” — an adage so old as to rival the age of the breakfast concept itself. But is it really true?

Certainly waking to the smell of sizzling bacon and brewing coffee is a pleasant beginning to a weekend morning, but during the work week when alarm clocks so often dictate a hasty breakfast on the go, is it necessary or beneficial to eat a meal?

It turns out: maybe not.

Often referred to as Intermittent Fasting within the health and fitness community, forgoing breakfast in favor of a short term fast may be of benefit in terms of both health and convenience.

Intermittent Fasting

Often practiced by simply finishing dinner and waiting some 14-18 hours before eating again, Intermittent Fasting is a strategy based on limiting oneself to a particular “eating window” during the day. The amount of meals eaten is at the discretion of the individual, so long as those meals fall within said window. In addition to the convenience this method affords early-morning commuters, waiting for a lunch break to eat the day’s first meal may yield additional health benefits, including:

  • Fat Loss: As early as 2005, it was determined that intermittent fasting could be used as a viable weight loss and maintenance program. Intuitively, it follows that having less time to eat might lead to a reduction in the amount eaten, but the hormonal changes associated with short-term fasting may further enhance the weight loss process. In terms of short-term fasting, norepinephrine and growth hormone are both increased, which accelerates the metabolic rate. What’s more, a study on alternate day fasting (ad libitum food intake one day, reduced intake the next) suggested that this manner of eating “may be more effective (than daily calorie restriction) for the retention of lean mass.” In short, fasting occasionally may allow you to burn more fat and keep more muscle while losing weight.
  • Type 2 Diabetes Risk Reduction: Hallmark symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include insufficient insulin levels, insulin resistance, and obesity. A recent review revealed intermittent fasting to be as effective as calorie restriction with regard to “reductions in visceral fat mass, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance.” This means that the benefits of calorie restriction in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes may be achieved by simply altering meal timing.
  • A Better Brain: The brain-body connection is often more concrete than we realize; the improvement of one often coincides with the improvement of the other. Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) is responsible for maintaining the health of existing neurons and helping to create new neurons and new neuronal connections (synapses). Low levels of BDNF have even been associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s and with Major Depression. Intermittent fasting regimens “have been demonstrated to ameliorate and attenuate neuronal damage” and it is thought that the mechanism of this effect is related to an increase in BDNF induced by fasting.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to eat breakfast every day. In fact, it may behoove you not to do so on occasion. So instead of buying donuts to start your day, consider implementing your first intermittent fast.