Many of us grew up being told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Nutrition experts have long recommended a hearty morning meal for benefits ranging from weight maintenance to better overall health. But new studies, like one from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, suggest this might not be as set in stone as we thought. They found no significant difference in weight loss between those who eat breakfast and those who don’t.

Why Three Meals? It’s Not Set in Stone

Looking back, the concept of three fixed meals a day isn’t as old as you might think. Food historian Caroline Yeldham shares that the Romans would typically eat just once a day, around noon, and saw eating more frequently as a form of gluttony. This one-meal-a-day approach influenced dining habits for centuries.

Fast forward to the 17th century, social norms began to change. Chef Clarissa Dickson Wright notes that after Charles II came back to power, not only did breakfast become more common across all classes, but it also became more decadent. Coffee, tea, and scrambled eggs started appearing on breakfast tables of the well-off.

Breakfast Becomes a Feast

By the 19th century, breakfast was an elaborate event, especially among the upper classes. It was the time of grand hunting parties where breakfast could include up to 24 dishes. The Industrial Revolution further cemented breakfast as a daily staple, with workers needing a good early meal to power through the day.

In the early 20th century, breakfast underwent another transformation thanks to John Harvey Kellogg, who accidentally invented cornflakes. This sparked a huge breakfast cereal industry. By the 1920s and 1930s, even governments promoted breakfast as crucial, a notion that persisted even through food shortages in World War II.

The Commercialization of Breakfast: Big Food Industry Influence

So, breakfast as we know it today is largely a cultural construct, heavily shaped by both social changes and commercial interests. “The food industry wants you to buy more food,” and they’ve been quite successful because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good snack?

The notion of breakfast as an essential meal has been heavily promoted not just by tradition and culture but also by substantial commercial interests. The “Big Food” industry, which encompasses major food and beverage corporations, has played a pivotal role in shaping our morning eating habits. Here’s how commercialization has influenced our breakfast plates:

  1. Marketing of Breakfast Foods: Since the early 20th century, the food industry has been instrumental in defining what constitutes a “proper” breakfast. Advertisements have portrayed breakfast foods like cereals, toasts, eggs, and bacon as not only delicious but necessary for a healthy start. This marketing is driven by the desire to increase consumer demand for these products, ensuring steady sales from the breakfast segment.
  2. Convenience Products: As lifestyles have become busier, the industry has responded by developing a range of convenient breakfast solutions. Pre-packaged cereals, instant oatmeal, breakfast bars, and drinkable yoghourts are marketed as quick, easy options that fit neatly into hectic mornings. This focus on convenience appeals to the modern consumer’s need for quick and efficient meal solutions, further entrenching the habit of eating breakfast.
  3. Health Claims: The food industry often highlights the health benefits of consuming their breakfast products. Cereals are frequently fortified with vitamins and minerals, and their health benefits—such as being heart-healthy or high in fibre—are emphasised in marketing campaigns. These claims can make breakfast seem essential from a nutritional standpoint, even though the actual health benefits may be less significant than advertised.
  4. Strategic Partnerships and Sponsorships: Many companies engage in partnerships with schools and health organisations to promote their breakfast products as part of a balanced diet. These partnerships can lend an air of credibility and authority to their products, reinforcing the message that breakfast is a must-have meal.
  5. Global Influence: The influence of the Big Food industry isn’t limited to Western countries. As global markets open up, these corporations also promote Western-style breakfasts around the world, shifting traditional diets towards more standardised, and often more processed, breakfast options.


To Skip, or Not to Skip: That Is the Question

So should you skip breakfast or not? Let’s break down some of the pros and cons of skipping the morning meal to see if it might be right for you.

Pros of Skipping Breakfast:

  1. More Flexibility: Skipping breakfast can offer more flexibility in your daily schedule. If you’re not a morning person, you might prefer those extra minutes of sleep over preparing and eating breakfast.
  2. Intermittent Fasting: For those practising intermittent fasting, skipping breakfast is a common method. This eating pattern can lead to various benefits, including improved metabolic health, and for some, easier weight management.
  3. Listening to Your Body: If you’re simply not hungry in the mornings, skipping breakfast allows you to listen to your body’s natural hunger cues. Eating when you’re actually hungry, rather than adhering to a strict meal schedule, can lead to more mindful eating practices.

Cons of Skipping Breakfast:

  1. Potential Overeating: Skipping breakfast may lead to increased hunger later in the day, which can cause overeating or the consumption of less nutritious snacks. If you’re waiting until lunch, you might find yourself grabbing whatever is quickest, which isn’t always the healthiest option.
  2. Energy Slump: Some people experience a significant drop in energy when they skip breakfast. This can affect productivity and focus, particularly for those who are used to starting their day with a meal. However this is often a matter of getting used to skipping breakfast, eventually the body adapts.
  3. Missing Out on Nutrients: Breakfast is an opportunity to fuel your body with essential nutrients. Skipping it means you have fewer meals in the day to consume the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs. This is not necessarily a problem but just a reminder that the fewer meals you have the more nutrient rich your meals will need to be so you don’t miss out on vitamins and nutrients.

In the end, the decision to eat or skip breakfast should hinge on your personal health, your daily routine, and how you feel when you start your day with or without a meal. When it comes to nutrition,  ‘ One man’s meat is another man’s poison’  is the best reminder. What is good for me might not be good for someone else. There is no Holy Grail One-Diet-Suits-All out there.

If skipping breakfast works for you and fits into your lifestyle and dietary needs, it might be the right choice. Conversely, if you find you function better with a morning meal, then it’s probably worth keeping breakfast on your menu.

Anyway, enjoy your breakfast, or don’t. 

Until next time…