Breakfast is not the most important meal. Eating in general, and breakfast in particular, are more about the individual person concerned. Like many choices we make, many personal considerations must be made to arrive at the optimal option for any one person. Eating is important, what and when we eat is important and it is an individualized affair. So where does the idea that breakfast is the most important meal come from? All of us have heard at one point or the other that breakfast is the most important meal. Breakfast has been advocated as the most important meal of the day in the media since 1917 (Cooper et a, 2014). Perhaps your own parents frowned at you skipping breakfast out of concern because of what they themselves had been taught.
Several definitions of breakfast exist but that by Timlin and Pereira: “first meal of the day, eaten before or at the start of daily activities (e.g., errands, travel, work), within 2 h of waking, typically no later than 10:00 in the morning, and of an energy level between 20 and 35% of total daily energy needs “is accepted as an academic standard.
At first glance, the short comings of this academic standard are glaring. The time of our last meal is important and affects our metabolism significantly. The difference in overnight fast durations of any two people makes them metabolically distinct from each other (Zilberter et al, 2014). So merely suggesting that breakfast has the same effect on someone whose last meal was at 11pm as another person whose was at 5pm is a little too simplistic.
“The current body of scientific knowledge indicates that the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity is only presumed true” (Brown et al, p. 1298, 2013). The authors state that numerous articles demonstrating negative metabolic effects of skipping breakfast have yet to establish a causal relationship due to a lack of probative value and that the major obstacle in establishing causality is neglecting the possible confounding factors. Simply put, by ignoring such important factors as time of last meal, analyzing the effect of breakfast on any parameter is too simplistic and not reliable. A link between skipping breakfast and obesity has been challenged in many studies. Many studies have demonstrated a lack of a link between skipping breakfast and obesity.(4–12). Recently the exact opposite link demonstrated: in a large cohort study in Japan.
A 4-yearlong study based on Japanese insurance statistics (Kobayashi et al, 2014), the accumulation of newly diagnosed diseases was plotted against various lifestyle-related behaviors. Skipping breakfast has been demonstrated to increase hunger levels at lunch time. However, skipping breakfast resulted in a net energy deficit of about 400kcal a day comparing to BF eating group (Zilberter et al). The increased popularity of intermittent fasting and other approaches to lose weight may be influenced by caloric intake reduction due to skipping breakfast. Another component of energy balance is energy expenditure. Many authors have suggested that skipping breakfast leads to the body going into the so called “storage” mode where energy expenditure is markedly reduced by reducing resting energy expenditure.
However, it was recently shown that skipping breakfast did not affect 24-h energy expenditure, resting metabolic level, or food-induced thermogenesis (Kobayashi et al, 2014). Skipping breakfast, when late night meals and snacking are avoided, is a form of intermittent fasting that will probably be more favorable to implement. Eating as late as 9pm and having lunch as the first meal at mid-day results in a 15 hour fast. One of metabolic effects of intermittent fasting is intermittent ketosis known for its appetite suppression effect (Scharrer et al, 1999) Calorie restriction has been shown to have profound metabolic benefits including neuroprotective, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory (Willcox et al, 2013].
Additionally, Mattson and colleagues showed in rodents that intermittent fasting had more metabolic benefits than permanent calorie restriction (Mattson et al, 2003), thus skipping breakfast may be more beneficial than traditional restrictive dieting. The question of breakfast should perhaps be a question about inter meal interval especially the time allowed between supper and breakfast or the first meal. Whether we choose to eat breakfast or not, the more important thing is to ensure that we avoid unnecessary snacking and have longer inter-meal periods (especially between supper and the first meal).