Discerning good nutrition advice can be difficult considering all the contradictory information. Some call breakfast the most important meal of the day. Others call it a carbohydrate-loaded early dessert. With health trends such as intermittent fasting becoming popular, is breakfast worth eating?
The short answer from nutritionists is “it’s complicated.” The long answer is breakfast has both unhealthy traditions and healthy opportunities that can impact one’s whole day. Breakfast itself isn’t inherently healthy or unhealthy. Just like every other meal, the healthfulness depends on food choice.
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. No meal is most important because the time of day doesn’t make food more or less nutritious. If it comes down to eating unhealthy food such as doughnuts or skipping breakfast, Anna Busenburg, a dietitian with St. Vincent Women’s Hospital and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, recommended skipping breakfast and having a healthy snack later. However, Busenburg said the best option is to eat a healthy breakfast containing protein and produce.
“It’s more than just the meal,” Busenburg said. “It’s more about what you’re eating in that meal.”
Hudson Wikoff, director of nutrition at Naptown Nutrition, said a healthy breakfast is important because it has a psychological impact on the rest of the day’s choices. When someone begins the day eating healthy, they confirm their dedication to nutrition. When someone begins the day with an unhealthy choice, they often continue making unhealthy choices, thinking they can make it up tomorrow, and that way of thinking becomes a dangerous habit-forming temptation.
“So much of it is just a mindset,” Wikoff said. “… If we wake up Saturday morning and we go get our doughnuts, we are in the mindset of, ‘I had this meal. It probably wasn’t the best meal for me, so I am going to treat this as a ‘screw it’ type of a day.’”
Dr. Melanie MacLaren, a naturopathic doctor with Dragonfly 360 Yoga and Wellness, explained a physiological reason why breakfast impacts decision-making. Eating three meals a day, beginning with breakfast, keeps blood sugar levels constant. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar to drop, causing the body to crave sugary foods to make up the difference.
Experts said a healthy breakfast can look many different ways. No one diet fits all, but a rule of thumb is eating a balanced variety of foods. According to Wikoff, a breakfast plate should contain 50% produce, 25% protein and 25% non-processed carbohydrates. Busenburg uses a slightly different model, telling patients to eat at least three out of five of the main food groups during breakfast. For example, a banana, a bagel and eggs would fit fruit, grains and protein into one meal.
If it’s tough striking a balance with the breakfast food on hand, MacLaren said people don’t need to eat breakfast food for breakfast. No nutritionist will think less of a patient for eating leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner instead of a processed-carbohydrate filled toaster waffle.
In fact, MacLaren said preparing breakfast the night before is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy breakfast. Many people lack the time or motivation in the morning, so they eat quickly-prepared food such as sugary cereal.
“Being prepared is really the biggest thing,” MacLaren said. “For me, I run a business. I have a family. I have kids. I’m just prepared. Over the weekend I get everything ready, I cook extra food.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.