Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? That may be true. In a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology they used data from NHANES between 1984 and 1995 to try and decipher this question. NHANES is the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey where Americans of all walks of life are questioned about their habits. Then, years later, an academic physician compiles all this data and sees if there is a pattern to behaviors and health outcomes. In this particular study out of the University of Iowa, they asked the question, does skipping or eating breakfast correlate to death from heart disease or all cause mortality? They had about 6500 people who answered the survey and by 2011, 2300 of them had died. About 650 of them from heart disease. Of those people who answered 5% never ate breakfast and nearly 60% ate breakfast daily. The odds ratio for people who did not eat breakfast vs those who did and died of heart disease was 1.87. Meaning that NOT eating breakfast conferred an 87% increased risk of dying of heart disease.
Well, that’s an interesting finding. In and of itself, if it was just this one study, I’m not sure if I would make much of it. The number of people studied and died is rather small to reach a conclusion even if it is statistically significant. However, if you look at the numerous other studies that attempt to answer the same question, there does seem to be a pattern. Eating breakfast may be protective against heart disease. The mechanism is unclear. The people that skip breakfast happen to also have other admittedly unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, and a sedentary lifestyle. Maybe skipping breakfast is just a marker that red flags an unhealthy person and it’s not the consumption of a meal in the morning that is so protective. So if you are otherwise doing a good job with your health, eating breakfast may not add to your preventative measures for heart disease.
My personal experience is that eating breakfast helps to reduce your (my) overall calorie consumption during the course of the day. A few years ago after sharing my wife’s experience of pregnancy, delivery, and infant care, I put on a few pounds. I wanted to try and shed the pounds and my trainer told me: “Dude I could get you in here 5 times a week. But it may be cutting my own throat, but the real answer is to cut down your calorie consumption.” So I went to one of those 3 week places. You get on a program and you eat just what they provide for 3 weeks. $$$. You eat FIVE meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. Man, I was never hungry and yet consumed less than 1500 calories in a day. What I experienced first hand, was that eating breakfast regularly for me made me satiated and I required less calories over the coarse of the day to feel full. So my take on it, without only anecdotal data to support my theory, is that people who eat breakfast likely consume less calories and have other healthy habits that reduces their risk compared to non-breakfast eaters of suffering heart attacks and death.