Ever wonder why it’s the most important meal of the day?

When schedules are full and sleep is scarce, it can be easy to let breakfast fall by the wayside. A sit-down meal of cinnamon oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and cut fruit might feel like a weekend luxury, not an ordinary day’s habit.

But research shows that it’s in your best interest to make time for a balanced morning meal every day. Skipping breakfast not only makes enduring the rest of the day tougher physically and mentally, but it could also have serious long-term repercussions on your health.

Why You Need to Fuel Up in the A.M.

Gisela Bouvier, MBA, RDN, LDN, explains that “upon waking up in the morning, our blood glucose level tends to be low due to prolonged fasting while sleeping.” When you don’t break that fast, blood sugar can drop further, and make you feel “faint, sluggish, and weak,” says Bouvier. Eating breakfast fuels your hungering system, so that you are likely to be “much more productive in the workplace and throughout [your] day.”

For some people, skipping breakfast may contribute to weight gain. Morton Tavel, MD, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, says “After an overnight fast, the body’s metabolic rate slows sufficiently to slow the burning of calories, and by prolonging this fasting period, we are more apt to turn the furnace down to ‘low,’ burn up fewer calories, and allow for more conversion to fat that was designed for storage during lean periods."

It’s Tougher to Make Good Decisions Later

When you don’t start off on the right nutritional foot, it's tough to stay on track during the rest of the day. Bouvier says, “If by mid-morning or lunch time you are famished, you are going to think less of what you are eating and more of just needing to eat.” Sugary or overly fatty foods may seem more appealing for a quick fix, but they won’t give you the nutritious energy you really need.

Instead, Bouvier recommends beginning the day with a combination of carbohydrates and protein. “Carbohydrates replenish blood glucose levels to increase them to a normal level so that our brains and muscles can work their best throughout the day,” while “protein gives us more satiety in the morning and helps to keep blood sugar at a normal level.”

Verily contributor Christine Warner writes that the tryptophan in “good carbohydrates increases the levels of serotonin in your brain, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.” She suggests reaching for “bananas, milk, yogurt, oats, wheat, eggs, turkey, and nuts” to boost your morning energy vibes.

For balanced morning meal options, Jennifer Glockner, RDN recommends a hard-boiled egg on whole grain toast with sliced produce like tomatoes, avocado, or olives; sardines on a whole grain cracker with cucumbers, radishes, and a squeeze of lemon juice; or whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, fruits, and nuts or seeds.

Eating Breakfast Shouldn’t Be Optional

Research shows skipping breakfast may interfere with fertility. In a study of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), those who took in more calories at breakfast than at dinner had lower insulin and testosterone levels, which improved their chances of conceiving. Researchers think a similar “big breakfast diet could prevent the development of type-2 diabetes.”

According to Dr. Tavel, “Various small scientific studies have suggested that skipping breakfast may carry several adverse consequences, including weight gain, elevated blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, development of diabetes, and increased risk of heart disease.” He cites a 16-year study in the American Heart Association Journal, in which men who consistently ate breakfast, “had better long-term reductions of heart disease” even when researchers corrected for variables in the breakfast-skipping group who “possessed more risk factors.” The bottom line, he says, is that “by just including breakfast alone in your diet you may be reducing your chances of disease.”

According to Bouvier, “People who eat breakfast also tend to be thinner and have better cholesterol levels. This again, has to do with being satiated and not allowing their bodies to go into starvation mode that can lead to poorer food choices.”

The Secret Is Simply Eating Breakfast as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

Dr. Tavel says that the negative consequences mentioned above correlate with skipping breakfast in studies, but because the relationship is not proven to be causal, it is possible that “other traits such as intermittent snacking” could contribute to “[predisposition] to these various health risks” as well.

Eating a good breakfast may decrease the frequency of such habits, but no one habit miraculously creates a healthy life. What’s important is maintaining balance amid seasons of celebration, stress, illness, and change. Time and science have proven that a regular breakfast is a very good place to start.

Photo Credit: Alexa Fernando