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People Who Skip Breakfast Miss Vital Nutrients, Snack More

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New research finds that people who skip breakfast miss nutrients they don’t often get from other meals and that they tend to snack more throughout the day. Maskot/Getty Images
  • If you skip breakfast each day, you could be missing out on several vital nutrients.
  • Foods that are commonly eaten for breakfast don’t tend to be eaten at other times of the day. This can lead to underconsumption of the nutrients that they contain.
  • In addition, people who skip breakfast tend to snack more, especially on sugars, carbohydrates, and fat.
  • Experts say that it’s important to start your day with good nutritional choices, regardless of what you eat.

Skipping breakfast can be an easy habit to start, whether out of convenience or in an effort to cut calories.

However, a new study from researchers at The Ohio State University shows that regularly skipping breakfast may be a bad idea.

In fact, you could be missing out on several vital nutrients that you won’t make up for later in the day.

The team took data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing annual survey that seeks to capture a snapshot of the health and nutritional status of Americans.

The sample used for this study included 30,889 adults ages 19 and older who had participated in the NHANES between 2005 and 2016.

To determine who had skipped breakfast, they looked at the 24-hour dietary recalls that the survey participants had completed.

They then calculated the nutrient content of what the breakfast skippers reported they’d consumed.

They found that people who skipped breakfast tended to have a very different nutritional profile than those who did eat a morning meal.

When it came to several key nutrients that the team looked at — like fiber, magnesium, copper, and zinc — breakfast skippers also took in less than breakfast eaters.

In addition, the biggest differences in consumption were found in folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and D.

Also, breakfast skippers tended to have an overall poorer quality diet due to more snacking, especially on sugars, carbohydrates, and fat.

At first glance, it might seem that people could simply make up for breakfast by eating other foods later in the day. But research shows that usually isn’t the case.

The senior author of the study, Christopher Taylor, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND, associate professor of medical dietetics in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University, described breakfast as a “unique meal opportunity.”

According to Taylor, foods that are commonly eaten in a typical American breakfast — like cereal, milk, fruit, and grains — are less likely to be eaten at other times of the day.

These foods naturally contain nutrients like calcium, iron, phosphorus, and fiber.

In addition, many of these foods are fortified with important nutrients, he said. Refined grains and cereals have added iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. Dairy has added vitamins A and D.

Fortification of certain foods is important, Taylor explained, because it adds back nutrients that are lost in the refining process.

Because these foods tend to be unique to a breakfast meal, Taylor said that the nutrients they contain are less likely to be eaten in other meals.

While Taylor and his team put an emphasis on foods such as fortified grains and dairy, Dr. Michelle Pearlman, a gastroenterologist and expert in obesity medicine at the University of Miami Health System, is wary. The study was funded by the National Dairy Association Mideast, so there’s a possibility that this sponsorship could’ve led to a bias in interpreting the data.

“Although it is common to consume breakfast cereals and cow’s milk and yogurt for breakfast,” said Pearlman, “there are many other foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and non-dairy milk that contain similar nutrients to those that are provided by dairy foods/beverages.”

She further noted that what time you eat your first meal of the day isn’t so important as whether you’re making good choices in the foods that you eat. She recommends listening to your hunger cues and eating when you’re hungry.

As far as what you eat, she said that some ideal options for breakfast are “solid” foods that will keep you fuller for longer. Foods that contain fiber and protein slow digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes, she explained, helping you feel satisfied until your next meal.

She recommends eating whole fruit rather than drinking juices so that you get more fiber and less sugar.

Finally, she recommends lean, unprocessed meats as your protein source rather than ham or bacon, which have been linked to certain cancers and are high in sodium.