“It’s the most important meal of the day!” We’ve all heard it, but what makes breakfast so important? Here we will break down the science behind what takes place in our bodies and why we need that morning boost. There are tons of easy home and office breakfast ideas out there that make starting your day off right simple, but first, let’s meet some of the key players:
Glucose: a monosaccharide, or simple sugar, absorbed into the blood after eating. It is the preferred fuel for the body and used by organs like our brain and skeletal muscle. Glucose moves through the body in the blood, so you will often hear “blood glucose” referred to as “blood sugar.”
Insulin: a hormone made by specialized cells in the pancreas called beta cells. Insulin signals that blood glucose levels are high and allows glucose to move out of the blood and into different cells of the body to be used as energy. Insulin is like the key that unlocks the door to let glucose into the cells and keeps our blood sugar in balance.
Glucagon: a hormone made by alpha cells of the pancreas. Glucagon acts opposite of insulin to signal that blood glucose levels are low, which prompts the breakdown of stored energy through the action of many different enzymes and a series of chemical reactions. The end result is that glycogen in the liver is broken down to glucose, and is released back into the blood.
After a typical night of sleeping, most adults are in a fasted state in the range of 8-12 hours. Depending on when you last ate, it may be even longer. At this point, the body has not yet entered a starvation mode but metabolic pathways have shifted to use endogenous sources of fuel (from within the body) instead of exogenous sources of energy (from the foods we eat). This means that instead of absorbing and using energy from carbohydrates, fats, and protein in our diet, we are turning to stored glycogen and fat instead.
In this fasted state, blood glucose levels are lower than usual so insulin is less active and glucagon is more active. Glycogen from the liver is being broken down, but at this point the body’s fuel tank is close to running on empty and we need to eat a meal to fill the tank again. At this point, glucose absorbed from a meal is directed to the organs that need it most. So don’t be concerned that carbohydrates consumed at breakfast move straight to storage. They’re playing an important role to replenish the energy needed for critical organs like our brain, muscle, and kidneys.
A fasted state can occur anytime you go an extended period of time without eating anything, so for this reason, breakfast is no more or no less important than any other meal of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – skipping any of the three can impact your energy and mood, as well as throwing off the delicate balance our bodies strive to maintain.
Providing energy is the primary benefit of eating breakfast, and as a result there are many secondary benefits that follow. Research in humans has shown that people who eat breakfast report better concentration and mood, and students who eat breakfast regularly perform better in school. Studies have also shown that eating breakfast does not lead to higher calorie intake for the rest of the day, and can actually prevent us from overeating at later meals. There are several theories as to why this happens, but the main takeaway message is that there are numerous benefits for eating a meal shortly after waking up.
What Is The Best Breakfast?
There are lots of options, but the important components to include are complex carbohydrates, fiber and protein to help keep you feeling full until your next meal. These days, many “breakfast foods” are actually just disguised desserts with many artificial ingredients, added sugar, and little to no nutritional value (think breakfast pastries, energy bars, sugary cereals). While eating something can be better than eating nothing, this is a case where the quality of your meal prevails over the quantity of the food you eat. When your mornings are busy, reach for these three quick and easy recipes!
And remember that there’s no hard-set rule that you must have traditional breakfast foods for breakfast. For simplicity, you could eat leftovers from your meal the night before, or munch on raw veggies and hummus on your drive to work. Your goal is to provide the fuel your body needs to get ready for the day ahead, so get creative and find something that works for you!
Oh, and for more delicious breakfast ideas, download my 6-Minute Smoothies e-book!