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Intermittent Fasting: What to Know About Skipping Breakfast

With intermittent fasting growing in popularity, you may be wondering, who’s right: The people who say breakfast is the most important meal of the day or those who skip it?

Even if you forgo breakfast because you don’t have enough time or aren’t hungry, there may be some effects. Research has linked eating an early meal with better mental and physical abilities. In the long-term, skipping breakfast may even lead to heart health problems. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those fasting need to stop.

In this guide, we’re discussing the pros and cons of eating and skipping breakfast. Taking your lifestyle into account, you’ll learn the best option for your health.

Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day depends, in part, on your routine. If you exercise in the morning, research shows that it’s better to eat beforehand.

A2018 study compared those who ate a porridge breakfast before cycling and those who fasted. Those who ate breakfast digested and metabolized carbohydrates more efficiently. Carbs are also broken down rapidly, giving you more energy during high-intensity exercise.

That means breakfast can be critical for top performance if you’re:

  • An athlete
  • A fitness buff with early workouts
  • Someone with a physically active job and early start time

Eating early can also be necessary for other people like students or anyone who needs a sharp mind in the morning. A 2005 study compared young students who ate instant oatmeal or cereal to those who skipped breakfast. Those who ate showed better short-term and spatial memory (memory related to location).

However, the benefits of eating breakfast depend on the food. For example, that same study found that six- to eight-year-olds who ate oatmeal instead of cereal had better spatial memory and auditory attention. Since cereal has less fiber and a higher glycemic score, researchers suggest that oatmeal provides a slower energy release, leading to better cognitive function.

People who say breakfast is the most important meal of the day can back up their claim with other findings too:

What Happens When You Skip Breakfast

Skipping breakfast may be more common than you think.

According to a 2019 survey, the average person only eats three breakfasts a week. About 13% said they rarely, if ever, ate in the morning. Reasons for skipping breakfast include not being hungry, not having time or being too busy.

Some people also extend their overnight fast as part of an intermittent fasting diet—meaning they only eat within a window of time and forgo morning meals every day.

While it can decrease your calorie intake, some research shows that the benefits of skipping breakfast may come at a long-term cost.

According to a 2017 German study, while they burned more calories, volunteers had higher glucose concentrations and markers of inflammation after lunch on the days they skipped breakfast. Researchers concluded that prolonged fasting might cause metabolic inflexibility (your body's inability to use different types of "fuel"), which may eventually lead to low-grade inflammation.

But the problem may extend further. Since chronic inflammation can affect insulin sensitivity, it may impair your metabolism, which can raise your risk for obesity and type-2 diabetes.

Perhaps you skip breakfast, not as a dieting technique but because you simply don’t have enough time. However, that may also come with consequences.

One long-term study showed that men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of coronary heart disease. A 2019 study came to a similar conclusion, finding that breakfast-skippers were 87% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. While there could be several reasons for the link, one possibility is that it decreases insulin sensitivity, contributing to heart problems.

Skipping breakfast could also lead to a worse mood. Compared to women who ate in the morning, those who didn't had higher cortisol levels (a stress hormone) during the day.

Eating vs. Skipping Breakfast

Multiple studies show that physical and mental performance is enhanced by eating breakfast. If you work mornings or are a student, eating early is ideal. If you start your day with a workout, skipping the meal could lead to less energy during exercise and ravenous hunger after. In other words, it’s not usually a long-term option.

Although more research needs to be done to find out why, there are links between skipping breakfast and negative health outcomes, such as worse memory and nutrient intake and higher risk of chronic diseases.

If you still want to try intermittent fasting, then you might consider skipping another meal instead. For example, in the previously mentioned German study, people burned more calories by forgoing dinner. Another option is to have an early dinner/late lunch and avoid nighttime snacking.

Ultimately, to do intermittent fasting, you’ll need to choose a fasting window that fits your lifestyle. Since most people need to be physically or mentally sharp early, morning fasting probably isn’t the best option.

Read five myths about breakfast.

Eat a Better Breakfast

While eating in the morning is important, not all breakfasts are created equal. Consider the quality of your go-to meal. For example, a donut or muffin is high in refined carbohydrates, which can make you feel tired, also known as a “carb crash.”

Since the body breaks down proteins and fats at a slower rate, they’re a longer-lasting source of energy. Breakfasts containing eggs, nuts and Greek yogurt are good options.

Oats are also a top choice because they:

Discover the 10 healthiest breakfast foods.

Knowing which breakfast foods are healthy may not be enough. If you don’t have time in the morning, you may find yourself skipping the meal anyway. If this sounds like you, read How to Become a Morning Person to learn practical ways to make better use of your AM.

Sources:

  1. https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpendo.00163.2018
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5794245/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16085130
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18346309
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20112150
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6572196/
  7. https://www.smartbrief.com/branded/391CAE11-B499-4878-B8D0-EFE59540D516/A3A6444F-BAE3-418E-B984-CE14778A05E8
  8. https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2019/07/22/What-s-for-breakfast-Fewer-Americans-are-eating-breakfast
  9. https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/pr_111011b/
  10. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/105/6/1351/4668664
  11. https://time.com/4786181/skipping-breakfast-health-benefits/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23877060/
  13. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/73/16/2025
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25545767
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/many-intermittent-fasters-skip-breakfast-heres-why-thats-not-a-good-idea/2018/10/23/976aba7e-d311-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html
  16. https://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/home/disorders-of-nutrition/overview-of-nutrition/carbohydrates,-proteins,-and-fats
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24024772
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7956987
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15186945

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