Why Breakfast is NOT the Most Important Meal of the Day

The concept that breakfast is a must is simply a result of marketing campaigns. The slogan “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was coined during the 19th century to promote a newly-invented breakfast cereal.

Breakfast is often considered to be the most important meal of the day. “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” is a common enough phrase we have come across and have tried to live by. The word “breakfast” is a compound word, consisting of two words “break” and “fast”. So, to eat a meal in the morning is to break the overnight fast (the period of not eating during the night). Hence, breakfast technically gives us necessary calories to boost our energy levels, provides nutrition and sustenance, and gets us ready to meet the challenges of the day. According to experts, when we eat breakfast, diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) is activated, which in turn stimulates resting metabolism, thus helping us burn more calories throughout the day. So, is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Is it true that a good breakfast makes our day more productive? Is skipping breakfast really detrimental to our health and the crux of metabolic imbalance? Are we making a lifestyle mistake by doing so?

Breakfast has become such a familiar part of our daily routine that we do wholeheartedly believe it is the most important meal of the day. It fits so well into our current lifestyles that we assume it is something people have always enjoyed. However, in the past, especially in our culture, breakfast was usually completely missing from our daily meals. Eating early in the day was only a necessity usually for the infirm, children, and pregnant women, or if a specially labor intensive day lay ahead of a person, like tilling the land. Eating too early was not a habitual thing, as meals were supposed to be taken only after the nitya karma (daily rituals) was complete. Fasting was a religious observation, and to break the fast before prayers and dhyan was frowned upon. Besides self care, meditation, and prayers, certain chores like sweeping and mopping were to be complete before one sat down to eat or drink. The day began with a clean body, clean mind, and clean house. The standard food and drinks that are associated with breakfast today, like tea, coffee, toast, cereals, etc. have only been so over time. Breakfast would be something simple, like a glass of milk or buttermilk. Or, lunch would be the first meal of the day. In the past, there was no ‘three set of meals’ rule that we all seem to follow everyday. People ate only when they were hungry. In today’s world, as our days have gotten busier, ‘three set of meals’ rule seem to better fit into our schedules.

Even in the Western world, the concept of a hearty breakfast formalized only with the Industrial Revolution, as employment became a thing. A big breakfast would sustain people for longer as they went to work. However, the concept that breakfast is a must is simply a result of marketing campaigns. The slogan “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was coined during the 19th century to promote the newly-invented breakfast cereals. The phrase consisted of mere words written by a dietitian, Lenna Cooper, in a 1917 article for Good Health magazine, which was published by a healthcare facility directed by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who happened to be the food innovator of Kellogg cornflakes. A lot of money was pumped into advertising, and this made a clear impact on the consumers. Breakfast cereals became popular, not owing to their health benefits, but their convenience. The phrase spread like wildfire, and nobody was immune to the mantra. Today, we are so used to it that we cannot focus on our work if our days do not start with a cup of tea or coffee, and our stomachs grumble in protest when we skip our breakfast. With time came various other types of breakfast, and along with them, more slogans. So, breakfast became the most marketed meal of the day. Experts, athletes, and celebrities endorsed various products, which led people to believe that starting our day with a hearty breakfast was the healthier choice. Marketing may have deliberately changed the course of human eating habit in terms of what, when, and how much.

What happens to our body if we skip breakfast? The overnight fasting period is prolonged, and our eating window decreases. This allows us to practice time-restricted eating, more popularly termed as intermittent fasting. In the state of fasting, since the body does not get its usual supply of glucose, a process called glycogenesis occurs, where glycogen previously stored in the liver breaks down. The body then enters a mode called ketosis, when the body starts to burn stored fat for energy. This is an ideal state for inducing weight loss and lowering blood sugar levels. Various studies have been done to show the benefits of voluntary abstinence from eating for certain number of hours everyday. Time-restricted feeding has been associated with better weight management, improved immunity, decreased risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes and high blood pressure, improved cognitive function, improved digestive health, decreased risk of age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, reduced inflammation, decrease in anxiety, better sleep quality, and better overall physical and mental well-being. It is believed that breakfast helps us curb hunger pangs and prevents us from over eating later in the day. However, in a fasting state, the body breaks down stored fats for energy, a process called lipolysis, and without the glucose from our meals, there is marked decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin. With reduced hunger hormones and enough energy source, one does not feel hungry or low or energy in a fasting state. Hence, breakfast is not really the most important meal of the day. It is something we could not only do without, but has benefits if we skip.

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