Do you *actually* need to eat breakfast to be healthy?

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Breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day….or is it?!

For many of us, the idea that we need to eat breakfast each morning is deeply ingrained.

Maybe when you were a kid, your parents told you to finish all your toast or cereal each morning so you’d have enough energy for school.

Then, as you grew up, you were likely bombarded with diet articles, telling you to eat’ breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’ in order to control your weight.

But, is breakfast really any more important than any other meal? And do you actually need to eat breakfast in order to be healthy?

In other words, is brekkie really all it cracked up to be? (get it? because eggs!) Here, I give you the lowdown.

Why is breakfast even a thing?

First up, it’s important to understand that breakfast is a modern social construct. The need to eat first thing in the morning isn’t something that’s hard-wired into us. Needless to say, our Paleolithic ancestors did not sit around in their caves eating Cheerios before a big day of hunting.

While eating in the mornings has been a thing in many civilisations for many centuries, it was actually frowned upon in the Western world for being ‘gluttonous’ until the 17th century. However, breakfast as we know it took off in the Industrial Revolution of the 1600s, as people needed a hearty meal in the morning to fuel a full day’s work.

As for where breakfast got its healthy rep? Well, some say you could trace that back to none other than a man named Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Yep, that Kelloggs. Turns out, the cereal creator was also the editor of a magazine called Good Health. Back in 1917, they ran an article hyping up breakfast that stated “In many ways, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it is the meal that gets the day started.” Coincidence? I think not!

Do you need to eat breakfast to be healthy?

A research review analysed 13 breakfast studies and found that eating breakfast was not a reliable way to lose weight, and that skipping breakfast likely does not lead to weight gain.

Sooooo….it’s safe to say that just like anything, eating (or not eating breakfast) isn’t a magic bullet for weight loss. Of course, I don’t believe you should base what (or when) you eat solely around a desire to lose weight. So, does eating breakfast make you healthier in general?

Also no.

There’s no evidence to suggest that whether or not you eat breakfast is a deciding factor in how healthy you are overall. But you know what definitely will affect how healthy you are? What you eat, and how well you listen to your body.

So, if you’re someone who loves having breakfast in the morning, but you purposely skip it, end up feeling starved and binge on chocolate later, that’s not exactly healthy.

Conversely, if you’re not hungry in the mornings, so you have your first meal at 12 pm and it’s a well balanced meal that nourishes and fuels the body, well…that’s going to be a lot better for you.

Should you eat breakfast?

There’s only one deciding factor in whether you should eat breakfast in the morning: are you actually hungry?

If you are, have something satiating that’s going to keep you full until lunchtime.

If you’re not, don’t have breakfast! There’s nothing to be gained from forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry.

If you’re waking up absolutely ravenous and you go to bed dreaming of pancakes and bacon…well, that’s a good sign you’re not eating enough at dinner or need to add in some more carbs.

As always, just listen to your body. It’s pretty damn good at telling you what it needs.

PS. In need of some healthy breakfast ideas? My new book The Nude Nutritionist is packed with delicious recipes using simple, everyday ingredients. You can get it online here.

When is bloating actually an issue?

That’s not to say that bloating is always something to be ignored. Some people have genuine food intolerances which when left untreated, can lead to severe discomfort and other health issues like a compromised immune system.

So, when should you be worried about bloating? If that swollen feeling is accompanied by pain or other digestive issues (for example, constipation, diarrhoea, or needing to run to the bathroom) it’s important to see your doc.

Another telltale signs is smelly farts (sorry, had to be said!)  

Gas is actually a natural, healthy reaction as it means fermentation is happening within the gut. So a little gas, can be a good thing.

However, if the odour is so bad that your dog won’t even look you in the eye, you’re going to want to get that checked out.

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What to do when bloating is an issue

If bloating is actually an issue for you, there are a few things you can do to deal with it:

Identify which foods are causing it

Eliminating all foods unnecessarily is a bad idea, as you can miss out on valuable nutrients.

Plus, it makes it hard to pinpoint what is actually triggering the issue.

The FODMAP Diet (where you eliminate all common food intolerances) is extremely restrictive and should only be done with the guidance of a doctor or qualified nutritionist or dietitian.

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Consider the not-so-usual suspects

People are quick to point the finger at gluten or dairy when it comes to bloating. And while these are common food intolerances, it can sometimes be certain ingredients in them that cause the symptoms.

For example, lectin is a carbohydrate-binding protein found in everything from dairy products and grains to legumes and certain vegetables — and many people have been found to be intolerant to them.

Similarly, some people think they’re intolerant to rice (which is gluten-free, by the way!), but the problem is actually the garlic or onion that’s served with it.

Some people believe they have food intolerances, only to discover that they actually have a gut infection like H. Pylori, which causes similar symptoms.

Bottom line is to start by having a chat with your doctor who can refer you to a dietitian.

 Image:  Ella Olsson  Image: Ella Olsson

Don’t break up with beans (yet!)

Beans and other legumes like chickpeas are ah-mazing for you. They’re naturally high in protein and rich in fibre to help keep you ‘regular’ and keep you full for longer.

Unfortunately, they’re also a major source of bloating in some people. That said, you necessarily have to go cold turkey on beans if they’re made you bloated in the past.

Try switching to tinned beans, as these can be easier to digest than dried. Rinsing them twice before using can also help.

The portion size is also important. So, start with small amounts, eating them more regularly before you up your potion size. Many people rarely eat legumes, eat a whole serve, then wonder why the feel average.

If you eat them frequently, chances are your gut will get used to eating them. And If your gut doesn’t get used to eating legumes, that’s okay! They’re not for everyone and there’s plenty of other delicious foods out there you can eat instead.