Many ancestrally-minded experts advocate against skipping breakfast. Traditional societies always took care to eat well in the morning, except during fasting or seasonal cleansing. I’ve taken a bit of heat for this position, particularly from those that love their butter coffee instead of a meal or those trying to lose weight by intermittent fasting.
While not eating in the morning might have some short term benefits for some people, it also carries longer-term health consequences that aren’t discussed much. Here’s what science has to say on the subject.
Coffee Instead of Breakfast. A Really Bad Idea
Choosing to skip breakfast does a number on your body’s ability to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. This important substance is derived from the amino acid tryptophan.
Tryptophan, like all the amino acids, comes from the protein we eat. The best sources are meat and eggs from pastured animals. Some of the best plant sources are wheat, walnuts, and sea vegetables, although they contain a fraction of the amount in animal foods.
Once the digestive tract converts the tryptophan, the serotonin makes us feel happy, calm and self-confident even under stress.
Proper serotonin production throughout the day is important for a restful night’s sleep. The body converts serotonin into melatonin at dusk.
When you don’t eat a breakfast that contains 20-30 grams of tryptophan-containing protein (NOT collagen or protein powder), your body isn’t able to make adequate serotonin throughout the day. While eating protein-rich meals later definitely helps, you will still be playing catch up. (1)
At the end of the day, if you didn’t produce enough serotonin, you probably won’t sleep as deeply as you should. Ironically, this can ultimately contribute to weight gain, which is the opposite of what many breakfast skippers are trying to achieve!
In sum, if you love your morning coffee, there is no reason not to still have it … just eat breakfast first.
Intermittent Fasting. Skipping Dinner is Smarter
If you are a fan of intermittent fasting to lose weight, that is certainly fine. There’s some good science to back up the practice.
What you might not know is that scientists have found that those that fast by skipping dinner have better results than those that fast by skipping breakfast.
In short, the time window you choose to fast really matters.
Those who eat in the morning and afternoon and skip eating later have far healthier blood lipid profiles and better blood sugar control than those who skip breakfast and eat late in the day.
In addition, breakfast eaters tend to consume more nutrients overall than those who miss. (2)
Missing Breakfast Increases Risk of Death
In April 2019, the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a study that examined the relationship between skipping breakfast, the development of heart disease, and all-cause mortality.
Among 6550 study participants (48.2% male), the mean age was 53.2 years. The study used both surveys and death records to demonstrate that people who skipped breakfast were 87 percent more likely to have died of cardiovascular disease than those who ate in the morning. (3)
This strong association remained even after adjustment for age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, body mass index, and even cardiovascular risk factors!
Another study published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that patients who had experienced a heart attack were between 4 and 5 times as likely to die during recovery if they ate late-night dinners and then skipped breakfast. (4)
It’s Not Ok to Skip Breakfast
The bottom line is that missing breakfast may help lose some weight in the short term, but it may sacrifice your overall health.
If you need to ditch a few pounds, it’s best to skip dinner instead. Love your bulletproof morning Joe? No worries. Just drink it with or after breakfast.
(1) The Mood Cure
(2) Many intermittent fasters skip breakfast. Here’s why that’s not a good idea
(3) Association of Skipping Breakfast With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality
(4) Skipping breakfast concomitant with late-night dinner eating is associated with worse outcomes following ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction
Thanks Sarah. I might just try this because I am more hungry in the morning compared to later at night.
it is very individual. Some people don’t even feel hungry until lunch time – eating when you aren’t hungry isn’t any good practice. Just like some people naturally wake up 5 am, while others naturally wake up at 8 am (and go to bed accordingly, 8 pm or 11 pm). Bio-inner-clock does not work identically in all individuals. Those that wake up at 5 might eat at 9 am and be hungry by that time. Those that wake up 3 hours later obviously will eat later. Listen to your body and only eat when it is hungry – that THE BEST way. Not some given ‘instructions’
Sarah Pope MGA
I would agree with that in principle, HOWEVER, people who don’t get hungry until lunch need to be checked out for hormonal imbalance. This is simply not normal … it is a warning sign that things are out of whack.
Just wondering what a breakfast with 20-30 grams of tryptophan containing protein looks like? As always thank-you for your informative article!
Sarah Pope MGA
A couple of eggs and 2 slices of bacon would be an easy example. Obviously, children would be about half that amount.
Thanks again for a wonderful article! My observations line up completely with Erica. My children who consistently skip breakfast have a very hard time getting to bed before 11pm (7-18 year olds) and will end up snacking after supper and looking for that “sweet, salty and fatty” treat. Three of my kids consistently eat their breakfast of yogurt , eggs or buttered toast every morning are in bed before nine. For a few years I also fasted through breakfast, my first meal would be between 11am-12pm. Those years I had severe insomnia, consistently low energy throughout the day despite the Weston Price diet I ate and poor memory. I craved a fatty, salty late night snack which would then proceed to give me nightmares if I indulged and would start the poor sleep, sluggish morning cycle all over again. My kids who decline breakfast are also more “moody” and have more digestive issues than my kids that do eat breakfast so this article is really resounding with me!
Of course I read the article. Did you read my comment? Perhaps the results of the study cited have more to do with the “late night” dinner than with skipping breakfast? Unless there was a group studied who skipped breakfast but ate dinner during a more common dinner hour (5-7?), then perhaps one could conclude an association with the skipped breakfast. As it is, at least two variables are in play.
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, the reference about the intermittent fasting covers that 🙂 Still don’t understand where your keto comment came from though.
With the blatant fraud and conflicts of interest contaminating modern research and the journals that publish it, we can hardly take at face value any “peer reviewed study.” If intermittent fasting, keto diets, and such are cutting in on the profits of the medical and pharmaceutical industries because patients are remediating their own problems with blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, etc. instead of paying for the next medication and/or procedure, then of course there will be “studies” popping up to cast doubt on these strategies.
Sarah Pope MGA
Not really sure what your argument is? This article is simply suggesting that intermittent fasting is better and more effective when you eat in the morning and finish your eating window in the late afternoon/early evening. There is nothing negative here about the keto diet either. Don’t really understand your comment … did you read the article?
Thank you Sarah for providing this information. It cracks me up to see all the comments defending their own position. I appreciate the info you provided so I can weigh it with all the other info I have read regarding IF. My teenage children have adapted IF and don’t have their first meal until 3-4 pm and then dinner around 6:30p. While they have lost weight and lost much of their focus on food and snacks (which I think is generally good), it also means they end up staying awake until after midnight and then want to sleep until noon. So essentially what they are doing is just pushing their body clock against the sun and normal rhythms. I personally have found if I miss the 10-2 sleep window for detox, I won’t have an appetite for breakfast. But if I get to bed before 11 and sleep a good night, I am ravenous when I wake up. Just a little anecdote but I think may have implications in terms of hunger in the morning.
Sarah Pope MGA
I think you are onto something there with your observations. Losing weight is a good thing if you are overweight .. but doing it at the expense of going against natural rhythms is going to do more harm than good in the long run. I see a lot of burnout after a few years of following some of this extreme advice. Better to have balance and slower results! Unfortunately, in our “gotta have it NOW” culture, if you haven’t lost 10 pounds in 2-3 weeks, an approach “isn’t working”.