Intermittent fasting is gaining ground in health and fitness circles, so you may be wondering if you can get by without breakfast. With intermittent fasting, breakfast is not only optional, it's discouraged. The most common method is a 16-hour overnight fast, followed by an 8-hour eating window.
Yet, nutrition professionals have long suggested that breakfast is critical. "Breakfast sets the tone for the day," says Antigone Senn, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health. "If you eat a balanced meal that includes protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fat, you'll start the day feeling energized."
But could there be benefits to pushing your breakfast time until later in the day or even skipping it all together? It depends.
The Case For Breakfast
There are plenty of reasons why many health professionals say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast can help jump-start your metabolism. If you eat dinner between 6 and 8 p.m., then sleep through the night, that’s a lot of time without any sustenance. Some people even experience headaches, blood sugar dips, faintness and difficulty concentrating when they skip breakfast.
Studies suggest that eating breakfast can also help keep blood sugar and blood pressure levels steady and improve cholesterol levels, provided you select healthy options (not pastries and donuts). In fact, popular breakfast foods often pack important nutrients like fiber, calcium, folate and vitamin C.
To get the most nutrient bang for your breakfast buck and start your day on a high note, choose foods with a mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber. Carbs will give you energy right away, protein will sustain you through the morning and the fiber will help you feel full for at least a few hours (probably more).
Why People Skip Breakfast
Healthy or not, up to one-quarter of Americans regularly bypass breakfast because they believe intermittent fasting is good for their bodies, or simply because they're not hungry.
"Contrary to popular belief, what matters for metabolism is the total amount of food consumed throughout the day, not the time when you consume those calories," Senn says. "The problem arises when breakfast skippers are so hungry that they overindulge when they're finally able to eat."
If your goal is to boost your metabolism and lose weight, studies show that whether you eat or skip breakfast has no bearing on the number of calories burned. Your best bet, says Senn, is to turn your energy toward building muscle mass since muscle burns more calories than fat.
The Bottom Line On Breakfast
Unless you're on a strict dietary regimen because of a chronic condition like diabetes, the timing of your morning meal isn't critical. Instead, it's important to focus on mindfulness and paying attention to your body's cues.
"If you're not hungry, there's no reason to shove down an unsatisfying breakfast," Senn says. "But in many cases, the people who say they're not hungry are actually getting their calories from supersized gourmet coffee drinks that pack a ton of fat and calories."
In general, Senn recommends eating within an hour of waking up, but only if you feel hungry. Some people don't crave a morning meal, and that's okay.
If your body runs best with breakfast, solid starts include:
- Oatmeal with nuts and bananas
- Whole grain toast with nut butter and fruit
- Nonfat Greek yogurt with nuts and berries
- Eggs scrambled with veggies like bell peppers, spinach and onions
- Whole-grain waffles with sliced strawberries, bananas and a dollop of low-fat or nonfat yogurt
Feel like you're overeating and unable to tune in to your body's cues? Make an appointment with your primary care physician or a registered dietitian. Working with a professional can help you devise a program that emphasizes listening to your body's needs.
Antigone Senn is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in nutrition counseling and health coaching at Henry Ford Health’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.