As if there isn’t enough whiplash-inducing nutrition advice out there, now skipping breakfast is being lauded by some as a good thing.
The meal is a casualty of a popular diet called intermittent fasting, which requires going extended periods of time without eating. The diet that has been embraced by celebrities, Silicon Valley CEOs and many health experts. There are many fasting iterations, with extreme versions requiring going days without food, but the more common variation, known as time-restricted eating, limits the time window in which eating is allowed, typically eight to 10 hours a day.
But restricted eating and a morning meal aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, you can have your intermittent fasting and eat breakfast, too. And there is substantial evidence you’d be better off that way.
Stopping eating for a long stretch of time daily, as more moderate versions of intermittent fasting plans call for, stands in stark contrast to the 24/7 buffet most Americans feed themselves today. A 2017 scientific statement from the American Heart Association published in the journal Circulation noted that adults in the United States have moved away from the traditional three squares a day and now “eat around the clock.”
This constant munching affects our body’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate our metabolism, and therefore has implications for the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In essence, our bodies function better — and we’re healthier — when we press pause on eating for a stretch of time each day.
But the time window we choose to fast matters. Fasting in the evening and overnight, then eating early in the day, is the pattern that has the most profound benefits. The research is clear that people who eat in the morning and afternoon have healthier blood lipid profiles, better blood-sugar control and tend to weigh less than those who eat late in the day. People who eat breakfast also tend to have better overall nutrient intakes than those who skip it. In addition, eating during the waking hours, when your mental and physical demands are highest, gives you the fuel to perform at your best.
Study after study on children and adults shows that people who eat breakfast do better on cognitive and memory tests than those who skip it. The brain simply operates better when it is well fueled than in a fasting state. So does the body. People who eat before working out perform better than those who don’t.
If you think intermittent fasting might be right for you, go ahead and try it, with your doctor’s approval, of course. But don’t give up breakfast.