With excuses ranging from “I don’t have time” to “I work out in the morning,” breakfast has become the most skipped meal of the day. In fact, more than 31 million Americans report skipping breakfast, according to a 2011 study by the NPD Group.
But breakfast may be one of the best things you can do for your body. Studies show that eating a regular breakfast can improve your cognitive function, help you avoid gaining weight and may help reduce coronary problems. Recently, scientists have discovered another reason to eat breakfast: to start your body’s daily clock.
Carolyn McCune, a registered dietician with Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, says eating breakfast gives you the energy you need to tackle the day ahead.
“Having the right breakfast can ensure you have good energy levels all day, your metabolism is running efficiently and your brain is sharp,” McCune says.
Researchers who study circadian rhythms traditionally thought light cued the body’s systems every day. But new findings point to food as a critical factor in resetting our internal timepiece.
The body’s metabolism adjusts to a slow burn overnight, McCune says, so it uses fewer calories while you’re sleeping. If you skip breakfast, your body will continue the same snail’s pace of calorie consumption until you finally eat, which triggers your body to switch out of sleep mode and use up calories at a higher rate. Meanwhile, as the morning wears on, your appetite increases.
“Now it is noon and you’re starving,” McCune says. “You look at the lunch menu and suddenly all the rich, high-fat foods look more appealing than ever, so you’re more likely to make poor food choices.”
Research shows that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight and have a higher risk of heart disease. A 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health of 27,000 men over a 16-year period found that men who routinely skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary disease as compared to men who ate a morning meal.
This is because skipping breakfast puts your body in a state of fasting, McCune says. Over time, this can spark a domino-like effect of health consequences, starting with insulin sensitivity that can lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.