Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. This is what conventional wisdom would have us believe. Like most of our health truths, I ask, “Are we sure?”…
An interesting concept: breakfast. What is breakfast? Simply put: the first meal of the day. What does the word mean? To break a fast, often of overnight. There is nothing in the definition that implies eating immediately upon rising or even in the morning for that matter. Breakfast is simply the first meal of the day and is not limited to cereal, oatmeal or eggs. Anything that’s eaten any time after a fast can be considered breakfast.
Humans have been technically eating a “break-fast” for our entire existence. Whenever we ate on a given day, we broke our fast. Over time, particularly with agricultural, industrial and cultural influences, the “first meal” evolved into an earlier and more purposeful event. For most people, thanks to long and grueling work days, breakfast began to trend earlier to allow for some energy intake to sustain laborers’ efforts. It was purposeful though it was not universal. For many years this was the case, some humans ate food in the morning, some did not. If you needed it to sustain your daily efforts, you ate your first meal in the morning, if not you ate later in the day. People ate when they were hungry and to support their needs (mental note on that concept). People also ate simple, real food prepared at home from quality ingredients (another very important point to remember).
Then during the rise of industry and commerce, particularly in America, things begin to change. Corporate food production was now in full swing and this started to influence behaviors and patterns. People got busier, food and meals became quicker, more difficult to prepare well, often more expensive and as a result we began to outsource our meals. After a very short time, advertising and marketing began to find this gold mine in “breakfast” and sure enough in short order we shifted the concept of breakfast from a whenever needed occurrence to a anchoring event of peoples’ days. As this developed it gained momentum, to the point now where breakfast has become a phenomenon in the world of food production. It is now this almost god-like thing with super powers, being too almighty and powerful to challenge. An integral part to health and wellness. The pillar of a healthy day. “Healthy people always eat breakfast” is what listening to the common mantra would likely convince you of (I was once exactly at this point, preaching and pleading with people to start their day right by eating a “good breakfast” or any breakfast at all- I guess we all evolve over time).
What also evolved was what we were eating for breakfast. Breakfast has gone from a whenever it happens real meal to a morning time light meal to a bigger more solid, sit down meal (based on real food) and is now somewhere in the realm of a highly processed store bought item that we eat quickly, on the run, that is high energy and low in nutrient value (whole grain wheat cereal with nonfat milk and orange juice, a fast food egg sandwich or a sweetened coffee drink and oatmeal).
This is a direct result of what food choices are now promoted for breakfast. The easiest, cheapest, tastiest and most available food items possible. These things are almost always not “real” food. Boxed, bagged and fast food breakfasts are not in our best interests for a number of reasons. Unfortunately many people have found themselves stopping for a egg breakfast sandwich and a mocha because they have been convinced they’re supposed to have breakfast.
It begs the question: Is coffee and a donut better than no breakfast at all?
Let’s look at some common breakfast thoughts/mantras:
Get your day off to a good start.
Eat like a king for breakfast.
Never skip breakfast- ever.
You can’t lose weight if you skip breakfast.
Eating breakfast increases your metabolism/Skipping breakfast slows your metabolism.
Skipping breakfast will make your body break down muscle.
Skipping breakfast will make you…break down muscle/ravenous later in the day/overeat later/groggy/tired/light headed/have low blood sugar/unable to concentrate/and on and on…
If you believe all of these very common theories you can see why breakfast is king of the world. We would literally fall apart without it in our lives, right there in the morning, greeting us with a smile and sending us out into the world with an encouraging pat on the back.
Here’s the thing: These and all of the other beliefs about breakfast either have “a bit” of truth, are situational to the individuals’ needs and context or are misunderstandings or assumptions of human metabolism. They are not absolute truths.
I don’t think that Breakfast(TM) is necessary. Breakfast(TM) hasn’t been a traditional meal for most of humanity. We have made it a necessity when there’s no good reason to make it an absolute. We now prize eating anything for breakfast, regardless of the food quality. Breakfast has also become a catch all for nutrient addition (e.g. “with added fiber”, “antioxidant rich”, “high in vitamin D!”). This is a recipe for disaster. Exhibit A:
Breakfast should happen whenever you want it to. If you want to eat breakfast in the morning, go for it. If you aren’t hungry in the morning, don’t eat. Eat when you are hungry. Eat to fuel your body for what it is going to be doing. Don’t eat just because other people tell you that you “should” or “need to”. If you’re not hungry and are going to be sitting at your desk all day don’t eat a bowl of oatmeal because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do and definitely file a Vanilla Latte and Pumpkin Loaf under the bad idea category. Think about what your body needs and is asking for before you eat.
If your breakfast makes you feel good and sustains you, then consider it useful but don’t think it’s mandatory.
If you skip breakfast all the time and end up overeating bad food later in the day or feel off all day, think about experimenting with breakfast.
If you do decide to eat breakfast, think about two things: eat nutrient dense real food and don’t be afraid to experiment or change. Food is food, you can eat anything you want anytime of the day. If meat for breakfast makes you feel good, don’t worry about it being a “dinner” food. In fact, many people feel good getting a dense protein meal in the morning. There are many ways to approach breakfast that work for many different kinds of people…
Skip it. Intermittent fasting is huge in the health world, something many health practitioners recommend and works well for many people. Here’s a little summary, there are many versions being practiced around the world.
Juicing. Another very popular choice is to start the day with vegetable and fruit juice blends. Blending and juicing are different but remain some of the most popular treatments of the first meal. Here’s PBS summarizing juicing.
Protein heavy. Works for many, here’s a version.
Low Carb. Very simple: keep the carbs out of breakfast. Another option that really keeps the hunger at bay throughout the day. Many versions of this being popularized.
Coffee. Bulletproof Coffee is becoming popular but many people throughout recent history have found coffee to be their breakfast of choice.
Or there’s old fashioned bacon and eggs, leftovers from dinner, a baked potato, a big salad, meat and nuts and on and on…
What Not To Do
In general, there’s not too many things you can’t do when it comes to breaking your fast. The only things that are likely going to be less than ideal are eating processed food products. Grain based foods (particularly wheat based) such as breads, pancakes, pastries, cereals usually promote hunger and inflammation and lead to crashes later in the day. Polyunsaturated oils (canola, soybean, other seed/bean/vegetable fats), which are everywhere (in pastries again) are also a bad way to start your day. For most people, sugar is another problem and is something that should be looked at when examining your first meal.
The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Breakfast:
1. Breakfast is not necessary. Break free from breakfast pressure.
2. Eat breakfast if you’re hungry. Don’t eat breakfast if you don’t feel like it.
3. Break your fast with good food that fuels your body appropriately.
4. There are many ways to approach breakfast. Listen to your body, it will guide you.
5. Be flexible and open minded to change.
Thanks for reading, have a great break fasting day (if wanted)!
P.S. Here’s some more reading on the history of breakfast and other meals…
Article from the BBC News
More Breakfast History from Letoile.
Lunch: An Urban Invention from Edible Geography