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Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?
11.07.16
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I did not eat breakfast until I was, like, 18. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I favored the extra twenty minutes of sleep before school’s ambitious 7:50 a.m. call time. Refuse to eat breakfast for a couple of days and you will lose your morning appetite. It has its pros and cons — on the one hand, you are fucking starving by 1 p.m., which isn’t good for anything (I spent the majority of my no-breakfast years dutifully eating bagels with peanut butter and jelly the minute lunchtime rolled around), but then again, if you’re not someone who works out, I really do wonder, how important are three heavy-ass eggs consumed within the first thirty minutes you’ve been awake?

According to Parsely Health’s Robin Berzin, very. “Having protein in the morning has been shown to boost your resting metabolic rate all day — meaning you burn more calories doing nothing. Protein also keeps people from getting hungry too soon and helps them avoid that mid-morning snack.”

It’s a moot point. There are staunch naysayers, like Harvey Diamond who penned Fit for Life and adamantly believes that one should eat only raw fruit and vegetables in the morning-into-early-afternoon. Part of the reason being that fruit rots in your stomach when consumed with other foods that require a heavier lift from your digestive system. According to my dad, though, who read and still nurtures Fit for Life as though it were the bible, and who paraphrased Diamond (I can’t be sure about this as he was unavailable for comment — my dad, I mean), the real benefit for having fruit in the morning is tethered to the cleansing of your lymphatic system, or something. Raw produce demands very little from the digestive system, and during the first five hours you’re awake, your lymphatic system — which keeps your immune system solid as Barack — is working its hardest to make sure you are the healthiest human on planet earth. When you eat heavy shit, this work is mitigated because your digestive system has to get involved and break down the Sausage McMuffin.

I have my qualms about this theory because I was a faithful practitioner of raw mornings for a solid nine months before I lost my period and never saw it again. But I digress.

On the other end of the spectrum lay the Cheerios — breakfast champions — like Alisa Vitti of WomanCode. I sat down with her for a 60 minute session last summer and the most resolute recommendation (demand) she had for me was that I eat within 90 minutes of waking up. Doing this, she posited, would kickstart my metabolism (makes sense), and restore natural order to my incapable-of-menstruating body. Not just that, though, she recommended two breakfasts: one right after I woke up and then another about an hour and a half later — ideally replete with eggs and greens. The common denominator in the dual breakfast equation is protein (almond butter, eggs), but I’m not a scientist so I have no further thoughts.

Of course, the question remains: What the hoot should I do in the morning? Eat breakfast or not? At this point, I’d rather kill myself than skip all of my favorite food groups, which coincidentally belong to breakfast (oatmeal, avocado toast, scrambled truffle eggs, slammin’ smoked salmon, yogurt and granola: it’s heaven served on a platter that emits the sound of birds chirping), but I’m pretty committed to not dying. So I also want to make sure I am doing what’s healthiest. Berzin says that she sees people “do breakfast wrong all the time.” Incidentally, the aforementioned granola and oatmeal are probably not the best bets; they are wont to put me on “an energy yo-yo all morning” and cause me to “overeat later and drink too much coffee to stave off the crash.”

Dammit.

But have you heard of intermittent fasting? It’s that thing where you wait about 16 hours between your evening meal and morning meal, which is supposed to stimulate fat burning. Berzin squashes this trend, too, as it can “stress the body out and lead to higher cortisol levels and weight gain.” Cue the quotidian peanut butter-and-jelly bagel.

I still haven’t answered the question, huh? What the hoot should I eat!

Dr. Rupy Aujla of The Doctor’s Kitchen is a bit more forgiving. “Everyone’s different,” he says. “Some people just aren’t hungry for the first few hours. What’s actually more important is routine. There is some really interesting research looking at how food impacts our ‘circadian rhythms.’ These are the daily surges of hormones that ultimately affect things like our metabolism. If we eat erratically, these are likely to become maligned and that can lead to a cascade of problems with digestion, fatigue and weight gain.”

He still believes we should eat breakfast. “I encourage a light meal that contains great sources of quality fat, protein and fiber. Unfortunately, cereal, milk and juice don’t make the cut. Sautéed greens, nuts, seeds, overnight cinnamon oats with flax, or black beans and guacamole are all great options. And for those who don’t have the leisure of being able to cook a full meal, pre-prepared dishes like chia bowls with seeds and berries or quick smoothies like banana, avocado and nut butter are also fab.”

Berzin’s idea of the dream breakfast includes “either one of Parsley’s Rebuild vegan protein shakes, or one to two hard boiled or scrambled eggs with a quarter to half an avocado and a side of smoked salmon. Either way, you’ve got a breakfast that’s low-carb and high in healthy fat, which will keep you full all morning, stoke the fires of your metabolism and keep you from crashing later in the day.”

Verdict? Tell yo’ bagel to take a hike (just kidding, some days you deserve it!), stick to protein, and let’s pretend that bit about the lymphatic system never happened.

Feature photo by Tarik Kizilkaya via iStock; carousel photo by Tom Kelley via Getty Images.

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  • Mariana

    True fact: when I eat bread with butter/cheese at breakfast I’m hungry in 1 or 2 hours; when I eat bread with an egg I only feel hungry near the lunch time, wish is very convenient because when I am hungry at 11a.m. I don’t concentrate, only think about food and I just wanna eat the crappiest things. So more protein works for me!
    I am trying to substitute the usual carbohydrates for better versions (brown bread) and my next move is trying tapioca crepes for breakfast.

  • Grace B

    I’m back on the oatmeal train, it’s a recipe I make at night and heat up in the morning (steel cut oats btw). Added hemp hearts this morning and I have been full for 2.5 hours now. Highly recommend.

  • Cristina

    I think all the “healthy” breakfasts sounds sad and come from proverbial people who make money off of their opinion convincing folks they are right. I LUUURVVV breakfast and happily make it my biggest meal of the day. It doesn’t matter what I eat, very few things keep me full all the way until lunch time. I generally eat lunch super early for this reason, so that I don’t dive face first into some pizza. Today’s whole wheat pancakes with sausage put a smile on my face. If I had to eat nuts and seeds with eggs I would literally cry tears into my food and those don’t count as calories do they? I’m pretty sure they have no nutritional value.

    • kellymcd

      lol at tears having no nutritional value hahahha

  • Basil

    I also didn’t eat breakfast for years, and now, like all those years I didn’t eat avocado as a kid, I realise what I missed and am gutted. Breakfast foods are the BEST!

  • Since I switched over from a bowl of cereal to an omelet and toast for breakfast, I have never felt better!

    Laila from Townhouse Palette

  • tunie

    OK. I have the answer to this question, though you probably know from your raw days: maybe very yesterday but hey – it checks all boxes, at least in my life:

    Green smoothie.

    Fast, filling yet light, super nutritious, portable. Every morning I fill the vitamix with half a bundle of greens (for protein – look it up, gorillas KNOW – or if you need a break from greens, add a good protein powder), 5 or 6 ripe (freckled) bananas with a pint of strawberries or mango or equivalent of any other RIPE fruit, and enough water to be drinkably smooth. NO yogurt or milk because that interferes with digestion of the fruit, which is necessary for healthy calories. Blended, it makes two quarts which I drink while doing email every morning, or I can take it with me in the car. Perfect.

    Occasionally, I’ll do a chia cup with flavored yogurt on top instead: 4 Tbs chia in a pint jar, 3/4 full of water, shake and top with yogurt and a handful of granola, soaked almonds and or cacao nibs, etc.

    • tunie

      Pro tip: try to use fresh fruit but if using frozen, or in winter, add warm water, nearly hot, so the smoothie is room temp instead of icy. makes a big difference on cold mornings and is really delicious.

  • Love love love breakfast! It is the time of day where I can and would eat the most – usually (scrambled) eggs with greens AND a sweet dish that is either porridge or granola with almond milk. I know it sounds insane, however, I qualify breakfast as simply the first meal of the day for me and that can sometime be well around 12 pm (I’ve read that thing about intermittent fasting and sort of believe it)… but that combo does keep me full till dinnertime, which makes it a winner in my book!

  • Alice

    I have always been a breakfast person. Love it, can’t live without it! I think I am going to have to have some smoked salmon soon though because nothing sounds better right now.

  • Iva Quint

    Cripes, this is an insane example of how much conflicting info there is on any given topic! Sorry you have to wade through all this. Generally I just try to listen to how i’m feeling in the morning — if i had a light or early dinner the night before, I eat full-fat yogurt with fruit, granola and chia seeds, and if i’m more hungry or have more time, I make eggs! Also, sometimes I skip breakfast but end up eating my lunch at 11am and then just end up shifting my meal schedule by about four hours. That’s not great tho.

    • June2

      That’s because we are all different and the Dept. of Health or whoever it is that sets these standards, is allergic to diversity and personal responsability. We each have to learn how our own body works and care for it accordingly. Not too complicated, just pay attention to our selves, as you mention you do!

  • Adrianna

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ffb29d0bd1ce8922869b9e0342c86cb62908a7a00778ffdea4da1230d5b9d477.jpg
    When girls talk about the green smoothie they had for breakfast

    I have no idea how people function without eating a proper meal for breakfast. I barely get through my morning shower because I’m already hangry.

    My most filling breakfasts contain green vegetables and protein. Consuming eggs for the first time at 24 was life changing. I quickly got over my desire to dry-heave at the smell when I realized how amazing I felt after eating one.

    I recommend roasting a vegetable in your toaster oven as you get ready for the day.

    • Hannah Cole

      this is a dream

    • Mariana

      Gee, so much food! I would be full until 5p.m.! Wish would be cool #savingmoneyfromlunch

      • Adrianna

        lol that is NOT a lot of food

        • Mariana

          ahaha at weekends I eat more: eggs, bread, fresh orange juice, you name it. But regularly I can make it to that full plate, because I’m always running from monday to friday (blame the snooze button, not me!!lol)

    • Well, people are different, even as far as breakfast is concerned 🙂

      I am even complicated 🙂 – I don’t do breakfast during the week, get hungry around 11 am and happily drink my rice protein shake. Some time after 1 pm, I cook lunch (veggies) and need a small dinner around 6 pm.
      On weekends, though, I can hardly wait for my husband to ask: eggs for breakfast? 🙂 We usually have cooked eggs, share an avocado, eat some peanut or cashew or almond butter with that, hummus … A real orgy. Come Monday, I cannot even think about breakfast.

  • Madeline

    What’s it called when you eat breakfast at 8am and then are hungry again by 10?

  • A boiled egg in the morning keeps me from making a whole crap-ton of very bad choices for the rest of the day.
    Coffee also necessary.
    My spouse is the kale king, the blenderamalama man, and he’s very cranky all day long.
    Your results may vary.

  • I need to eat breakfast, I always wake up starving. I seriously don’t get how some people can last until lunch without eating anything. I’ve always liked light breakfasts though, a fruit salad + granola/toast/oatmeal/a pastry if I didn’t have any of those items at home. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to eat something more proteiny instead of the carbs though.

  • Alanis

    I would love to be one of those morning people who makes a nice big breakfast every morning, but my stomach disagrees. For some reason I don’t get hungry until lunch! 😬 I have to do better, I’ll start with that black beans and guacamole!

  • Lisa

    ‘fit for life’ was my jam, so to speak, back in the day. but only for a little while because i cannot handle routine in any form. but some of those recipes–i still make them–the apple juice/frozen banana/strawberry OG smoothie, and the steamed veggie pita pocket with the BBQ onions? i could eat those all day. i have never been a big breakfast eater typically because i am not hungry in the early morning. i need to eat around 10 and my work is not conducive to my eating cycles, therefore i wait until noon.

  • vicki

    I wish breakfast was every meal of the day

  • elpug

    something with 12-20g of protein works best for me depending on whether or not i workout and keeps me pretty steady throughout the next few hours until the coffee i had with it wears off and i’m either drinking more coffee or snacking all night or both 🙂 lately i’ve found myself eating breakfast food for dinner, too. hopefully it works just as well then!

  • Hannah Cole

    Overnight oats are
    #1 my favourite food in the whole world
    #2 absolutely perfect because I’m hardly even hungry when it comes to the designated lunch time
    ( but always needs a coffee friend on the side )

  • Ashley Marie Perkins

    I like breakfast foods, but I don’t like eating them at breakfast time. Since I was little, if I would eat breakfast in the mornings, I would get really nauseous on my way to school. When I started eating breakfast again, it just make me really tired, and I found it made me even hungrier and liable to snack before lunchtime rolled around.

    So now during the week I’m a coffee (either black or with a little almond milk) kinda girl and I eat a really big lunch around 11:30a-2p depending on my day and then a light dinner later on in the day. My fiance is a BIG breakfast person – he’ll eat Nutella on toast, oatmeal, elaborate sandwiches he’s made with salami and cheese, granola and almond milk… So on the weekends when I don’t have to run around like an insane person and can afford to go at a little slower pace, I indulge him and eat breakfast with him.

  • Sydney

    I hear so many people talk about how they can’t stomach breakfast in the morning, however I don’t think I can physcially go without breakfast. Too yummy. I literally plan my day around what I am going to eat. I <3 food

  • starryhye

    I love love love breakfast! Particularly super sugary cereal that’s void of any nutritional value. Last year however, I started skipping breakfast and did a loose version of intermittent fasting. It was really hard at first (see above sugar love) especially when I have to make my kids breakfast and pack lunches. But it’s definitely gotten easier and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in my body composition (I lift weights while fasted). I still drink coffee after my workout and end up having lunch on the early side.

  • Ginger

    I eat 2 breakfasts! Avocado toast, oatmeal, or eggs before my bike ride into work and then something else when I get in, like a protein smoothie or a pbj 🙂

  • Leandra Medine

    i want waffles

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