From a young age, breakfast being the “most important meal of the day” phrase has been ingrained into our brains. And now, as more and more research about breakfast comes out, scientists have data about how significant eating after waking up is for performance. UW Health says, “it gives your metabolism, your body’s engine, a boost and provides needed energy.” Let’s dig into the science of breakfast.
The most important aspect of eating is how it translates into energy, which is needed for staying active and focused. A study conducted by Howard Taras is one of many that has shown a lack of breakfast is correlated with significant drops in class scores.
To measure changes, researchers posed students with several cognitive challenges before and after feeding them. Taras found that, after controlling for other variables, the students who ate a full breakfast performed better than others academically. He also noted that differences were most apparent in students who were undernourished before the test.
What Taras didn’t stress is that a prime reason one should eat breakfast is to be properly nourished. The trouble of malnutrition exists among every group in the population — even those who do not battle with food insecurities often have micronutrient deficiencies.
While many people consume enough of the main macronutrients — fats, proteins and carbs — consuming adequate quantities of vitamins and minerals is a challenge for many. Insufficient intake of micronutrients is a result of the lack of whole foods in the modern Western diet, a product of cultural preferences towards more convenient processed foods.
Interestingly, a study by Roberts and Bentman found that although most students had near recommended levels for most vitamins, suggested mineral levels were rarely achieved. Mineral deficiencies are most commonly exemplified by low levels of iron, called anemia, and calcium, called hypocalcemia. It is possible to achieve USDA recommended amounts of these minerals, but many people take multivitamins as an easy fix for low levels of micronutrients.
Nutrition is as important for activity as it is for cognitive ability. Skipping breakfast deprives your body of energy for the beginning of the day and leaves you hungry as the day wears on. Even if you don’t feel low on energy, you could be burning muscle proteins if your body is out of effective energy sources, says a report by Cava et al. Eating something light before your workouts will facilitate muscle growth and prevent your body from burning protein as energy.
Luckily for new breakfast eaters, there are many satisfying breakfast choices to fit any dietary preferences and needs, but it is best to try to consume something that is light and nutrient rich.
Quick options for students include eggs, whole grain cereals, fruits or toast with nut butters, all of which can be made in a dorm room if you have a microwave. These foods are quick, affordable and hearty. Scarfing down loads of calories is never a good move for the wellness of your body, even at breakfast.
Bypassing breakfast can also impact your weight. If you eat dinner at 6 p.m. and skip breakfast, you probably won’t have lunch until noon, which adds up to a whopping 18 hours without a meal. When dinner time comes (if you can make it that long without grabbing a snack or two), it's going to be quite easy to binge and overeat, which may cause you to feel lethargic.
Correlations between weight gain and skipping breakfast seem paradoxical, but the Jornal de Pediatria reports a link between rarely eating breakfast and obesity. Above average weight has been a common pattern seen in the population of rare breakfast eaters.
We may never know which meal is most important, but we do know that eating all three is vital. As the first meal, breakfast has an impact on the entirety of your day. When you open your eyes tomorrow, have a bite before you start your work for the day— you’ll be glad you did. Though everyone has a different relationship with foods and how their bodies metabolize them, we can confidently say eating breakfast is the right choice to make.