Do You Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

Plus, 5 easy breakfast ideas from a dietitian
woman eating yogurt for breakfast

The mantra, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” can be frustrating if you’re food-averse in the morning. But are you harming your health when you skip breakfast?

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We asked registered dietitian Andrea Dunn, RD, if breakfast really is the key to better health. 

Is breakfast important?

“Breakfast may not be for everyone,” says Dunn. “The term ‘breakfast’ means breaking the fast. And at some point in our day, all of us do that, whether it’s at 7 a.m. or noon.”

Dunn says much of the advice relating to the importance of breakfast is based on observational studies. These studies aren’t randomized clinical trials that prove its importance. (That’s welcome news if your stomach churns at the thought of eating breakfast in the morning.) So if you’re someone who doesn’t wake up hungry, delaying the first meal may be better. 

“Listen to your hunger cues to know how important breakfast is for you,” says Dunn. “What you eat over the whole day is more important than stressing over breakfast.”

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What are the benefits of breakfast?

This doesn’t mean that the “eat breakfast” advice is bunk — it just means the importance varies from person to person. Based on observational studies, these are the top selling points for eating breakfast within a few hours of waking:

  • Fuel your tank: Eating breakfast helps your body perform at its best, which may even help you shed unwanted pounds. The biggest benefit is that you’ll have more energy.
  • Improved heart health: The morning is when your body is most insulin-sensitive — when it uses blood sugar more effectively. So it’s a great time to choose fiber-filled carbs that will help you get 25 grams or more of dietary fiber a day to help lower your cholesterol.
  • Lower your diabetes risk: One observational study found people who skipped breakfast four to five days a week had as much as a 55% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduce brain fog: Your brain needs fuel to function. Breakfast can help you be more alert, focused and happy. 

Make it easy to eat breakfast

For many of the 25% of Americans who skip breakfast, it’s not because they aren’t hungry, but because they lack time. If mornings are hectic, you may need to plan ahead so you can grab-and-go.

“Think about breakfast barriers the night before,” says Dunn. “Do you need to have the toaster and items ready on the countertop? Can crockpot oatmeal save your morning? A little planning the night before goes a long way to getting you out the door and to work on time.”

5 healthy breakfast ideas that put more pep in your step

To keep your eyes from going half-mast by 10 a.m., Dunn recommends choosing whole foods and skipping processed foods that have extra sugar. “Eating a variety of foods will help you feel fuller and keep you satiated until lunch,” she says.

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Dunn recommends these fuel-and-go favorites:

  1. Greek yogurt or cottage cheese: This protein-and-fat combo can give you a feeling of fullness that lasts a little longer. You can mix in fruits, nuts or whole grain cereal. “Some people enjoy spreading cottage cheese on toast, like peanut butter,” says Dunn.
  2. Peanut butter and grain: The healthy fat and protein in peanut butter pairs well with a slice of high-fiber toast, freezer waffle or English muffin. If you have a peanut allergy, avocado is another tasty topping for toast. Add a side of fruit for good measure. 
  3. Oatmeal: Pair it with berries and walnuts or flax seed. “Oats only take 3 minutes in a microwave, so it doesn’t have to be time-consuming,” says Dunn. 
  4. Omelet: Make an egg- or tofu-veggie scramble using leftover vegetables from dinner. Or pair the egg or tofu scramble with black beans, salsa and a sprinkle of cheese in a whole grain wrap. You can make the wraps ahead of time and microwave them (or eat chilled).
  5. Breakfast shake: If eating breakfast isn’t your thing, there’s no law against drinking it. “For kids or adults who aren’t hungry, a beverage might be a better option,” says Dunn. “A cup of milk with a piece of fruit on the side or a low-sugar meal replacement shake may do the trick.”

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