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Diet blog: the big breakfast debate

Judith Wills / 08 March 2019

To breakfast or not to breakfast, that is the diet question. Our diet expert takes a look at the latest research findings.

Healthy breakfast

So which side are you on?

Are you with those who say, “Yes, please, every day – if I don’t get it, I am bad-tempered, can’t think properly and have no energy at all!”

Or are you with those who are sure it’s a waste of time?  “I’s obvious, isn’t it, that if you give it a miss you’ll feel brighter, get more done and lose weight.”

And no, I’m not talking about eight hours sleep, a large flat white, or even watching breakfast TV. I’m talking about that most contentious of issues – breakfast itself.

Almost as long as I’ve been writing about diet, weight and nutrition issues – which believe me, is a very long time – we, and that includes professors of nutrition, research scientists, and the great public, have not been able to agree whether breakfast is the most vital meal of the day, or the most easily dispensable.  And neither have we been been able to decide whether eating it or skipping it is most useful for weight loss and weight control. 

Quick and healthy breakfast ideas

And, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of scientific opinion on the subject, we still seem to have embedded in our minds the motto that to eat breakfast is the right way to start the day, the sensible, solid, obvious thing to do.  And that to skip it is to be wanton, silly, a little bit crazy.

Over the years, the breakfast subject has indeed driven me a little bit crazy for certain.  Some years ago I would say that almost every health and weight loss expert went along with the mantra that breakfast was important for all – citing the ‘fact’ that after a night’s fasting we needed to boost our blood sugars via the breakfast bowl so we didn’t feel weak, faint, etc etc. and in need of a large fry up mid-morning if we skipped. You needed to break your fast.  And taking this idea further, we then had decades of being told that if we didn’t eat breakfast we would eat much more at subsequent meals of the day.

A few renegades decided to preach the opposite – that if you didn’t want breakfast, fine, don’t eat - it was wasted calories that you could employ later in the day when you did feel hungry, and therefore keep yourself nice and slim.

We’re not that much further forward now in resolving this important debate. On the issue of nutritional health, for every trial in recent years that has found we should eat breakfast, another has found that it isn’t important.  But on the issue of weight loss/control, there is a slight balance in favour now of NOT eating it. Most research – including a new large overview of previous research published in the British Medical Journal in January - seems to show that people who do eat breakfast eat more calories in total over the day than people who do not.

That said – the difference is slight and though on average, this is the finding, it may not be true for everyone. 

In my own case, for many years I ate no breakfast at all, never having an appetite in the morning.  It didn’t seem to do me any harm at all, and I was slimmer then than I am now.  I succumbed to eating a breakfast a few years ago; not because I suddenly became hungry at that time of day but because I wanted the nutrients that a decent breakfast would give me and that, I realised, I wasn’t eating during the rest of the day.

A bowl of full-fat natural yogurt (Yeo Valley is gorgeous) topped with a little oat-based muesli, lots of different fruits and some nuts and seeds provided a range of goodies I’m unlikely to eat for the rest of the day, including healthy fats, pre-and probiotics for a healthy gut, vitamin C, and so on. 

More healthy breakfast ideas

Yes I’m a bit bigger, but I think that’s natural progression through the decades, not just the fault of my breakfast which, I reckon, contains only about 300 calories.

So if you like your breakfast, can I suggest that you carry on eating it but for your health and waistline, think about swapping less-healthy items such as highly-refined and/or sugary breakfast cereals and bakery goods – cornflakes followed by toast is a classic example of a not-very-good way to start the day - for items that will do much more for your health and waistline.  My yogurt bowl is one great idea; the now-cliched poached eggs and avocado is another great breakfast, high in good fats and protein.  And rather than white toast and jam or marmalade – think of fibre-rich rye bread with some sugar-free peanut butter on top – excellent!  Add a piece of citrus fruit or berries, and you’re done.

The best healthy breakfasts

But if you don’t like breakfast – don’t worry too much.  Just make sure to get nutrient-packed foods into the rest of your day; and enjoy the fact that you can eat slightly bigger portions then without adding the pounds!

Judith Wills is author of The Food Bible (White Owl, 2019).


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.