What’s Better for You—a Big or Small Breakfast?

Photo: Ali Inay/Unsplash

Long before nutrition experts began considering the relative merits of going gluten-free or cutting out nightshades, there was the big vs. small breakfast battle—and it's still raging.

Breakfast, of course, has enjoyed some awesome PR over the years as "the most important meal of the day"—but is that actually true, or simply a holdover from a time when people needed energy to tend to their farms? And what should be on the menu? Something filling and protein-heavy...or just a banana with a hit of caffeine?

We asked two experts with very different opinions to weigh in, and here's what they had to say.

Big Breakfast
Photo: Foodie's Feed/Jakub Kapusnak

The big breakfast advocate: Laura Hames Franklin, founder of the Superhuman Breakfast Challenge

To say that Brooklyn-based video blogger Laura Hames Franklin loves a big, hearty a.m. meal is an understatement. She's obsessed—so much so that she came up with a whole program (the Superhuman Breakfast Challenge) to help spread the big-breakfast gospel.

According to Franklin, the ideal breakfast has five components: a complete protein (like eggs, or a mix of different plant sources if you're vegan), complex carbohydrates (her go-to is sweet potato), dark greens (like spinach, bok choy, or collard greens), something rich in probiotics (like sauerkraut), and a high-quality salt that's full of minerals (she favors Himalayan sea salt).

That may sound rather, well, dinner-like, but Franklin says morning is when your body is best-prepped to break down all of those nutritious foods. "When you look at Chinese medicine and when energy is running through the stomach meridian, our body breaks down protein the best between 7 and 9 a.m., and the worst time to eat protein is 7 to 9 p.m.," Franklin explains. (It's true, big late-night meals can be tough on your system.)

If you're a morning workout junkie, Franklin says it's fine to skip breakfast or have something light beforehand, but only if your workout is pretty low-key. If you're planning on getting really sweaty, she suggests making a big breakfast right away, letting it digest for 45 minutes, and then working out—yes, even if it means setting your alarm painfully early.

The payoff is worth it. "When you start the day off eating the right breakfast," Franklin says, "your body knows it has the energy it needs and you'll feel better."

Photo: Stocksy/Vera Lair

The small breakfast advocate: Vanessa Vorbach, holistic nutritionist

Vancouver-based nutritionist Vanessa Vorbach (who consults for several wellness spas) doesn't necessarily hate the idea of a big breakfast, but she generally prefers having smaller meals throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels even. "Not only does it prevent mood swings, but it prevents people from overeating later," Vorbach says.

Her preferred morning nosh? A smoothie bowl with hemp, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds on top for added protein. In an ideal world, you'd follow it up with a mid-morning snack of a hard-boiled egg (or hummus and veggie sticks if you're vegan), then late-afternoon you'd have something fermented. For lunch and dinner (yes, you still get to eat actual meals), Vorbach likes a good balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, like a salad with avocado or fish and quinoa.

Vorbach cautions, however, that subsisting on smaller, more frequent meals takes planning—especially breakfast. "It's easy to reach for something that isn't healthy, like a granola bar loaded with sugar," she says. And if you know you're prone to overeating, Vorbach says you're probably better off going with three bigger meals a day—including a substantial breakfast. Otherwise, you might end up eating way more than your body actually needs.

"To me, it doesn't matter if someone has three meals a day, four, five, or six," she says. "What's more important is the portion sizes, staying away from refined carbohydrates—which spike blood sugar—and having protein and fiber-rich foods." That's definitely breakfast advice just about everyone can agree on.

Another classic debate? Whether gym equipment does more harm than good. Also...should you be ditching nightshades?

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