Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Harling’s recent story about cereal sent me on a breakfast-related emotional journey through all of my breakfast habits past, present and future, and I found myself wondering why breakfast is such a big deal. There isn’t nearly as much mystery or discussion around lunch. Perhaps because it’s still not entirely clear whether skipping breakfast is the worst thing you can do or if eating pancakes is a one-way-ticket to a 10 a.m. nap. Luckily, Leandra endeavored to answer these burning breakfast questions in 2016, so I’m republishing this now after my sensible breakfast of greek yogurt and a handful of M&Ms. -Nora 

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.”


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 your 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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