Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day? Nope

Too often we hear that breakfast is the most important meal, or that one should eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a poor person. With the idea that breakfast has a magical ability to cure us of obesity, keep us satisfied during the day – and the like. Turns out, the research just doesn’t agree with that thought. And when looking at the papers dealing with breakfast there is an important rule: when it comes to a paper where people are forced to recall what they ate and when, they are typically incorrect.

Sometimes all you want for breakfast is a cup of coffee– and that’s ok

Everyone knows:  Always eat Breakfast. There are many variations of this axiom.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Breakfast makes it so you won’t be hungry later.”
“Breakfast jump starts your metabolism.”
“You need to eat a large breakfast.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

All of those are FALSE.

Breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day- so don’t force it. The reality is that most people are not ready to eat breakfast when they first wake up.  So why does “everyone” say this? It is hard to trace back old myths like this. Some of this data was based on the Iowa Breakfast study- which was more than a single paper- but a group of observations made over a number of years and published. Those kids would wake up at 4 am to do chores until 7 am, then have breakfast and go to school, and those children did better in school than those who wakes up at 4 am, and didn’t  get breakfast..  The school breakfast program is an important one, because for some children this is their best meal of the day, and for some, perhaps their only meal of the day.

There are a lot of poor research studies out there- as with most food studies, when you rely on people recalling what they ate the studies are flawed. We prefer evidence or science based medicine for breakfast studies- and we have cited a few references below.

Let me be clear: I like breakfast. I think if you eat breakfast you should have a healthy breakfast – and there are a few ideas below.

“Breakfast makes it so you won’t be hungry later.”
A recent study showed that people who eat a large breakfast are not affected by how much they eat later in the day. Meaning that eating a large breakfast won’t keep you from snacking, or eating less the rest of the day. Some people feel as if they don’t need to eat more, but that is subjective, for some people – certainly not proof that applies to everyone.

You wonder where people come up with this idea– but when it is put to the scientific test- the breakfast you consume does not reduce food you consume later. Not one bit. No relation- no correlation.

“Breakfast jump starts your metabolism.”
They also found that eating less in the morning contributed to overall weight loss (if you eat less calories you will lose more weight).  There is a simple truth about weight loss – if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat big breakfasts and lots of other calories you will gain weight.  Breakfast does not jump start your metabolism- your body does that.

Again- how would you measure a “jump start” to metabolism? There are ways- but activity itself increases heart rate, breathing, and over all muscle activity. If you take comatose patients and measure their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production- and cycle feeds – the feeds do not increase metabolism. Another study took college football players and put them into a hospital and fed them. They were allowed to do a few walks- but not much more.  It was activity that increased metabolism- not food. Any food will increase some metabolism – but a breaking of the fast does NOT do any sort of jump start.

“You need to eat a large breakfast.”
Want to just have a smoothie or yogurt or some oatmeal to start your day? Go ahead. You want to wait for a couple of hours after you get up before having something to eat- that works too. But if you eat a large breakfast – you still need to work off those calories. Of course, if you have yogurt – please make certain it does not contain high fructose corn syrup!

You think this is an important meal?

The great thing about breakfast foods: You can eat them anytime! Who doesn’t like eggs for dinner?  Of course, if you are going to eat eggs- we highly recommend you eat eggs that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. It costs a bit more, but it is worth it.  By the way, while I am all in favor of having some protein for breakfast, I find most sausages, like the ones in the photo above, to be way too fatty for me. I prefer lean sausage- and in this case, reindeer sausage. The British have this one correct – they have a lot of beans for breakfast with eggs.

You can get Reindeer sausage on the Streets of Anchorage


You can also order reindeer sausage on-line. I like ordering them after Christmas and seeing a bit of red in them

In the middle east breakfast can be cucumbers with onions, fresh tomatoes, and a bit of light rolls (although most of these are put out for the Western crowd). And in Italy the typical breakfast is a quick shot of espresso and then run to work.


When it comes to your kids- skipping breakfast doesn’t work. The breakfast programs to allow kids who are in need, have proven their worth in schools. Sadly, for some children, Monday morning breakfast at schools may be their first good meal since the Friday before. Supporting breakfast programs for all children is an inexpensive way to help your community.


This doctor starts his day with a smoothie

I like a bit of protein in the morning – with some vegetables.


My Favorite Breakfast Foods:
Sous Vide cooked egg.  If you ever had an egg made where the yolk was creamy and the white was creamy- it is rare, but delicious. Easy to make with Sous Vide. Have the water bath set at 149 degrees F and put the egg in for 70 minutes (yes, seventy minutes). Trust me- you will love it. It’s not a typo, it’s one hour and ten minutes, and it is at a temperature that is 63 degrees below boiling water. Here is a photo:

A beautiful egg on toast – look at the perfection of white and yolk


If you don’t know how to make scrambled eggs so they have the consistency of custard, then you probably are eating some bit of rubbery eggs. The trick is to never let the eggs in the pan get above 160 degrees F, and stir a lot. These are the most delicious eggs- but they do take 10 plus minutes to make. You can also make them in the Sous Vide (I know, recurring theme here).

Eggs and Sausage. Great protein. Delicious combination. Not only is it great for breakfast, but also for dinner.

You read about reindeer sausage- this has flavor, little fat, and you can get it hot if you prefer. Where do you get it? You can order it from Alaska Sausage Company.

Things I avoid that I use to love:

Steel Cut Oatmeal – even “whole grains” are cut and milled. Avoiding grains in the morning – in fact all day, is good.  I use to think this was a good and healthy choice- but the grains are quickly broken down, absorbed and hit the body with a quick dose of insulin that begins to store the food instead of burn the food.

Sourdough pancakes: one of the best things about Alaska is the starter they use can be from a hundred years ago- of course, you have to have reindeer sausage with it. Why avoid it- because it starts the day with a high carbohydrate blast to the blood stream, and puts your body into storage mode. Something I use to eat and love – and it didn’t allow me to lose weight, but store food.

Since most individuals find this hard to believe, here are some studies that help show what modern research shows us:

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb;93(2):284-91. Epub 2010 Nov 17. Pub Med ID # 21084650
This study showed “there was no significant main effect of breakfast condition on energy intake at lunch (P = 0.36) or throughout the remainder of the day (P = 0.85). There was a significant main effect of breakfast condition (P = 0.04) on total daily energy intake, which indicated that on the day when the subjects did not eat breakfast, they consumed 362 fewer calories over the course of the day than when they did eat breakfast. On the day when no breakfast was served, subjects indicated that they were significantly hungrier, less full, and could consume more food before lunch than on the day when they did eat breakfast (P < 0.001). Leading to the conclusion that omitting breakfast affected children’s appetite ratings but not their energy intake at subsequent meals. The dissonance between children’s subjective ratings of prospective consumption and their actual intake should be further examined.”  Proving – less intake means less calories consumed in the day.

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2012 Jan;33(1):9-16. Pub Med ID # 22218013
This study concluded that “among children who regularly consume breakfast, skipping breakfast once significantly decreased their perceived level of energy and cheerfulness, but it did not affect their cognitive performance throughout the morning.” 

Nutr J. 2011 Jan 17;10:5. Pub Med ID # 21241165
This study showed that consuming a larger breakfast is associated with higher calories overall that need to be burned. They state: “Reduced breakfast energy intake is associated with lower total daily intake. The influence of the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake largely depends on the post-breakfast rather than breakfast intake pattern. Therefore, overweight and obese subjects should consider the reduction of breakfast calories as a simple option to improve their daily energy balance.”

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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Latest Comments

  1. Lynn says:

    Infants and toddlers are usually hungry when they wake up or become hungry soon after. At a certain point in childhood, the appetite wanes so the breakfast cereal manufacturers have to make the cereal appealing to get it to sell because by 9 or 10 in the morning, the child will be too hungry to pay attention in class. Probably the nutritional needs during periods of growth, especially in boys, are best met by eating at least 3 times a day. You have a 2 year old but you probably realize that teenaged boys are always hungry. Picky little girls don’t eat much. At our age, our caloric requirements are very low.

  2. GeekGoddess says:

    I notice that if I eat breakfast early, I tend to be much hungrier at lunch. I’m not against breakfast, just don’t need more than a couple bites of yogurt. And of course, COFFEE!

  3. Health n Fitness Care says:

    The point is if you have more calories intake and less calories burnt, you ought to have overweight issues. So the question is how much your body requires exactly to maintain the balance. Remaining empty stomach from the beginning of the day without a moderate breakfast too is not good, so its better to have a moderately balanced breakfast instead of going with out it. Remaining hungry for a longer time before you take your first meal may also end up with other complications.
    Ya, doctor, I too like having breakfast and love eggs too. Would try cooking them the way you showed, at 149 degrees F for 70 minutes, looks very tempting and yummy!!

  4. thedoc says:

    Your stomach empties after two hours from any meal, even the largest feast. So if your body isn’t really wanting food, there is no sense in putting food into it. There is no evidence that leaving the stomach empty is an issue at all. In fact, the normal state of the stomach is to be empty. Consider this: if you eat two meals, your stomach has food in it for 4 out of the 24 hours of the day.

    Being hungry – well, not certain what that means- but being hungry is NOT the stomach being empty. Hunger is a hormone regulated system – and in some people it is over-regulated so they have larger levels of hunger and will consume more calories to feed it. Other people have no issues with hunger and ignore it quite well.

  5. Dr. Terry Simpson says:

    If you eat too much protein it is rather silly because two things happen: it is either broken down and filtered out by the kidneys or converted to glucose for fuel. If you have normal functioning kidneys too much protein isn’t a problem. Over all I have rarely seen someone with protein deficiency – usually they are chronically ill with cancer, HIV, or other diseases – or some who are have eating disorders. America is a bit over the top with protein. You should have some- enough to replace, but not too much.

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