New Study Shows That Those Who Skip Breakfast Are Missing Out on Major Nutrients (and Not Just in the Morning)

Photo: Getty Images/ Alexander Spatari
A recent analysis of more than 30,000 American adults and their breakfast eating habits has added even more scientific merit to the time-honored adage that your first meal of the day is the most important.

Per the new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society by researchers from Ohio State University (OSU) this month, folks who neglect to eat breakfast tend to miss out on calcium, vitamin C, fiber, and other necessary vitamins and minerals often found in common breakfast foods, including milk, fruit, and cereal. More alarmingly, these key nutrients tend to be underrepresented in non-breakfast eaters’ diets all day.

"What we're seeing is that if you don't eat the foods that are commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day,” said senior author Christopher Taylor, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND, professor of medical dietetics in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University. “So those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap." In effect, skipping breakfast leads to a fully distinct nutritional profile over the course of the day.

And per the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest dietary guidelines, calcium, potassium, fiber and vitamin D are now deemed "dietary components of public health concern" for most Americans because inadequate consumption of these key nutrients is associated with health issues.

In order to complete their study, the Ohio State University researchers leveraged data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which collects health data from around 5,000 Americans each year via interviews, lab tests, and physicals. For this particular study, scientists gathered data from 30,889 adults age 19 and older who participated in the survey between 2005 and 2016. Based on this sample, the team found that 15.2 percent of participants, or around 5,000 adults, reported skipping their first meal.

The health benefits of breakfast are significant in the short- and long-term

“Those who eat breakfast have higher intakes of nutrients that most Americans fall short of in their diet,” says Jenna Amos, RD, Nutrition Manager at Freshly. “These include vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and iron. They also consume fewer nutrients that are linked to poor health outcomes, including saturated fat and sodium.” And while you could take supplements to ensure that you get these vitamins and minerals in your diet, Amos notes that consuming nutrients through food is ideal whenever possible.

In addition to the long-term health benefits of breakfast, Amos emphasizes the significant role that breakfast (and its nutrients) can play in maintaining optimal performance throughout your day. “Consuming breakfast may help improve memory and partially delayed recall,” adds Amos. “Plus, there may be potential benefits for attention and executive function, which include working memory, self-control, and flexible thinking. A complete breakfast can help provide the fuel to get you through challenging work assignments and when you’re put on the spot during important meetings.”

Amos also notes that eating in the morning is an excellent way to up your energy levels. “Those who miss this first meal of the day expend less energy in the morning compared to those who make time for the meal,” she notes, which also often means less energy to exercise or maintain an active lifestyle. And as the new OSU study points out, breakfast skippers tend to have an overall lower-quality diet when compared to folks who eat their breakfast. In fact, non-breakfast eaters appear to be more likely to have heightened levels of added sugars and saturated fat in their diets when compared to their breakfast-eating counterparts. Essentially, eating breakfast helps you make more conscious, healthy eating decisions for the rest of the day.

That said, not all breakfasts are created equal, Amos notes. “Choose well-balanced, protein and fiber-rich foods that are minimally processed to get the most out of your morning meal,” she says. She recommends eggs, fresh berries, oatmeal and peanut butter with fruit, high-protein (but low sugar) yogurt with banana and granola, or a breakfast wrap with fresh vegetables.

A healthy, well-balanced breakfast can also help keep your blood sugar at optimal, stable levels throughout the day. “This means you’ll be less likely to reach for sugary snacks and caffeinated beverages to get you through those mid-afternoon energy slumps,” Amos points out.

Final words of wisdom from nutrition pro Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN: “Think of it this way: A car runs on gas, our body runs on food. Without either, both won’t get very far.”

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