Do you need to eat first thing in the morning? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? The importance and composition of breakfast is a common question that I receive from clients.
The sun will rise and set each day. You will have awake time and sleep time in a 24 hour day. You will get hungry at some point during the day. You will need food to fuel your bodily functions for life.
During sleep, we typically fast, so the first meal after our sleep is defined as the breaking of the fast. According to the Merrian Webster dictionary, breakfast is the first meal of the day. If you break it down into two words, break and fast, it makes sense; you are breaking your overnight fast.
Breakfast in America
In the early 1800s, the American breakfast consisted of lots of meat, potatoes, cakes and pies. The size of the breakfast meal grew like a dinner meal. As we know in today’s culture, excess meat and food lead to adverse health and weight implications.
At the same time, as the size of breakfast grew in the American household, so did the epidemic of Dyspepsia, chronic indigestion. In the 1800s, Dyspepsia was a societal chronic health problem as compared to Obesity, in today’s society.
Doctors created cereal as the solution to the chronic indigestion problem. It was first developed in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, a religiously conservative vegetarian, who ran a medical sanitarium in western New York. He developed cereal as a digestive aid.
John Harvey Kellogg, physician, nutritionist, inventor, and medical missionary is considered the father of the prepared breakfast food industry. He advocated for a clean “biological living” diet.
Dr. Kellogg believed that eating a “biologic” natural diet would solve much more than chronic indigestion. Like Dr. Graham with his graham cracker, Kellogg found Americans’ meat-centric diets led them to sexual sins. He believed that cereal would both improve Americans’ health and keep them from masturbating and desiring sex. The first claim entered into mainstream advertising but not the second.
With industrialization and Americans going to work in factories, set routines and schedules were standard. The rise of cereal established breakfast as a meal with distinct foods and created the model of processed, ready-to-eat breakfast.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
This saying originated in a 1944 marketing campaign launched by General Foods, the manufacturer of Grape Nuts, to sell more cereal. During the “Eat a Good Breakfast—Do a Better Job,” campaign, grocery stores handed out pamphlets that promoted the importance of breakfast. At the same time, radio advertisements announced that “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
So is it true?
Before the invention of cereal, the breakfast meal was not at all different from any other meal. The invention of cereal as America’s first “Health Food,” encouraged a lighter breakfast to solve chronic indigestion. The simplicity of this “ready to eat” meal improvement in health helped with its popularity.
A recent study looked at breakfast, eating patterns and nutrition. The study focused on Swiss Adults breakfast habits and the nutritional composition of breakfast. The study concluded that breakfast was not the most important meal of the day. The authors supported current nutritional advice focusing on balancing the diet over the day of the week rather than on recommendations dedicated to specific meals.
Are all meals equal?
A study that focused on the diet quality of Adolescents concluded that days that included breakfast or lunch were associated with higher nutritional value. Weekdays with lunch were also associated with lower intakes of added sugar, compared to weekdays without lunch. Skipping breakfast and lunch was associated with reduced diet quality in adolescents. According to this study, targeting breakfast and lunch meals is a possible way forward to improve adolescents’ dietary intake. Want to improve your child’s health intake, read my blog on “How do I get my teenagers to eat healthy?”.
Is breakfast the most superior meal?
1. All meals can be balanced equally. You get to decide on how to distribute healthy eating in your routine, schedule and life.
2. Follow your hunger cues. Don’t eat breakfast just because you think it is the most important meal of the day. It may not be for you. But don’t starve yourself either. Balance your nutrition throughout the day for energy and enjoyment.
3. Focus on whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables that will give you fibre for optimal digestion.
4. Limit your sugar intake. Don’t buy breakfast cereal with high sugar content just because you need to eat breakfast.
5. Plan your meals and snacks. Easier said than done so if you are in a pinch, choose freshly prepared foods over-processed. The added cost will be better for your health.
6. Read your labels. Limit hidden sugar and salt, which is present in foods to keep you addicted.
7. And remember that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” is food marketing and advertising. Be skeptical and smart about nutrition claims. They are designed to increase sales and not your health.
To learn more about navigating a healthy eating lifestyle, book a free 15-minute consultation. I work with individuals, couples and families who are looking for ways to integrate healthy and nutritional balanced meals that are supportive of their dietary restrictions, in a way that is easy and fun. During the consultation, you can ask questions and discuss whether nutritional coaching or a meal plan is right for you. Book a time that works for your schedule by clicking here.