Diet blog: breakfast in the balance

Judith Wills / 02 February 2017

Is it worth eating breakfast? Our diet expert weighs the evidence.

To eat or not to eat?  That is the question – most certainly, when it comes to breakfast.

What's the best healthy breakfast?

I was updating myself the other day on what the experts have had to say recently about this meal, and I was surprised just how diverse the recommendations and findings are.

We all used to think of breakfast as ‘the most important meal of the day’.  But now, many reports suggest it’s over-rated and we might be better off skipping it altogether.  And obviously around half of Britons agree, as that is the proportion of us who no longer eat it.

I’ve attempted to sift through the variable, and often opposing, schools of thought and get a consensus on the subject but it has not been easy.  And, in truth, whether or not breakfast is right for you may come down to your own preferences, health goals and lifestyle.

So, in summing up all the recent evidence, I’ve had to fall back on that old favourite – my own experience, commonsense and opinion!

If your goal is to lose weight:  A comprehensive study at the University of Bath a year ago found that people who don’t eat breakfast tend to eat fewer calories over the whole day.  The non-breakfast group consumed around 20% fewer calories than the breakfast group overall each day, indicating that they didn’t compensate for the missed breakfast by eating more later on. They also found that the breakfast eating and non-breakfast eating groups maintained an almost identical metabolic rate during the day, knocking on the head the idea that breakfast increases MR and thus helps weight loss.

My verdict:  As several studies in the past two years have found that weight loss does depends on the number of calories you eat, if you can eat 20% fewer calories then weight loss should result.  Skipping breakfast should help you lose weight.  But the same should be true if you skip lunch – or maybe even between-meal snacking – instead.

Strange weight loss tips that just might work

If you have heart disease or are at risk:  This week’s report published by the American Heart Association says regularly skipping breakfast increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke by around 18-27%, to add to other studies in recent years which have come to the same conclusion. 

My verdict:  If you have cardiovascular problems or your doctor says you are at risk, best to eat your breakfast every day. If you are also overweight, simply cut back on your portion sizes for each meal, including your breakfast.

Heart healthy habits

If you feel hungry when you wake, and really enjoy breakfast: 

My verdict: Then have some breakfast – but try to make it a healthy one, as outlined below.  And consider a nice brisk walk afterwards.

If you don’t feel hungry in the mornings:  People seem either to be the sort who wake, raring to go and starving hungry, or those who take a while to get going and breakfast is the only meal of the day they don’t miss.  If you’re one of the latter, there is some research that you can alter that by eating earlier the previous evening and avoiding alcohol.  But …

My verdict:  I’d say skip early breakfast and consider a meal later in the morning – an early lunch or brunch – if possible. Go with how you feel unless you have heart health problems (see above), but try to get those healthy nutrients into your diet within the rest of your meals. 

Judith's healthy breakfast

Best breakfasts

Many studies over many years have shown the importance of a balanced diet.  If you choose your breakfast wisely, it can be rich in fibre, vitamin C and other vitamins, various minerals, plenty of anti-oxidants and plant chemicals, as well as healthy fats, protein and healthy gut bacteria. Almost everything you need, in fact – without being a source of too many calories.   

So most days, think of a bowl of natural (not low-fat) yogurt with different fresh fruits, nuts and seeds and a sprinkling of un-sugared oat-based muesli.  Such a breakfast will give you all those just-mentioned nutrients.  

If you don’t want breakfast – get them later in the day.  There is no law that says you can’t have a bowl of breakfast at lunchtime, is there? 

Of course, we now know that eggs are great for us, too, rich as they are in iron, protein and lots of other goodies.  So either get your eggs later in the day or have them occasionally instead of your yogurt breakfast – poached, boiled or scrambled, on a slice of wholegrain very lightly toasted bread, and with a piece of fruit to follow. 

Quick an healthy breakfast recipes

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.