Why eat breakfast?

Dear Alice,

I would like to know the importance of breakfast. Why do we have to have breakfast?

Breakfast Boycotter

Dear Breakfast Boycotter,  

From catchy cereal commercials to scientific studies, the popular narrative has been that breakfast is the most critical meal of the day. However, researchers and others working in the field of nutrition have recently reexamined the role of this morning meal. To answer your question, you don’t have to have breakfast. While it’s true that it can help boost energy, improve concentration, and burn calories, it isn’t for everyone. When it comes to having breakfast, you may find it useful to follow your stomach. If you’re hungry, eat! If not, you may want to pack some snacks to nibble on to make up for the nutrients you’d consume. If you’re still not sure if breakfast is for you, you might consider speaking with your health care provider or a dietitian to determine a meal plan that’s right for you. Keep reading for more breakfast knowledge for you to chew on!  

To start, it might be helpful to understand some benefits of eating breakfast. The word “breakfast” comes from the action itself — breaking your fast (a period of not eating), which usually happens after eight to ten hours of not eating (probably because you’re sleeping). When you eat, your body takes some of the glucose it receives and turns it into glycogen to be used during periods of fasting. Eating breakfast helps replenish those glucose levels, which can boost energy and improve metabolism. This is also why eating it is recommended for those with type II diabetes — it helps keep blood glucose levels stable. Those who don’t eat shortly after waking may feel more sluggish in the morning, have difficulty getting enough nutrients from their diet, or have trouble concentrating.  

Keeping those benefits in mind, it’s worth noting that they’re based on observational studies, meaning it’s not clear whether eating breakfast caused these improvements. That being said, eating breakfast may not be a good choice for some people. Skipping it and eating when hungry may help you better listen to your body and improve your relationship with food. There is even some research that suggests that skipping breakfast may give your cells time to filter out debris and other waste products, which in turn may help with anti-aging interventions. 

There are some schools of thought, such as intermittent fasting, that recommend skipping breakfast. This program calls for individuals to limit the time period in which they eat — such as within an eight-hour window. Although research indicates that this program may provide effects such as improved memory, better heart health, and weight reduction, it’s recommended that you speak with your health care provider, dietitian, or other nutritional health specialist before changing your diet. Going too long without eating can have serious adverse health effects for some. In fact, this plan generally isn’t recommended for children under the age of 18, pregnant or breastfeeding people, or people with a history of eating disorders.  

When it comes to eating breakfast, it seems the best thing you can do is listen to your body. If you’re hungry in the morning, you may find it helpful to have something to refuel your body. If eating shortly after waking up doesn’t work for you, you could consider holding off until you’re truly hungry. While there are a lot of benefits of eating breakfast, it may not work for everyone. If you’re still not sold one way or the other, here are some nutrient-dense snacks you can try out in the morning or whenever you’re ready to break your fast:  

  • High-fiber cereal with fruit and low-fat milk or a milk substitute  
  • Protein shake with fresh fruit and vegetables  
  • High-fiber toast or bagel with nut butter  
  • Protein bar with yogurt  
  • Greek yogurt with fresh fruit  
  • Oatmeal with fresh berries and seeds  
  • Omelet with vegetables of your choice  

Whether you want to continue boycotting breakfast, the choice is yours. There are reasons for both eating and skipping breakfast — you may find it helpful to listen to what your body is telling you in the morning. Before making any drastic dietary changes, it’s wise to consider speaking to a health care provider or dietitian to determine what your body needs. For additional information about various types of eating patterns, check out the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archives.  

Good luck with breaking your fast! 

Last updated Aug 13, 2021
Originally published Apr 16, 1999

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.