Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? It's the common wisdom we've all come to know, right? It's been drummed into us; healthy people eat breakfast; we need it to get us up and moving. Recent research has cast a bit of doubt on that old wisdom.

A review in the British Medical Journal this year found people who ate breakfast ate more calories overall and were slightly heavier than those who didn't eat breakfast, suggesting, researchers said, that breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss.

That's interesting, although what it really highlights is the need for more research, since the authors themselves said their results should be interpreted with caution. But can we be as sure as we thought about the benefits of brekkie?

Nutrition experts have generally always recommended breakfast – it's even in some official healthy eating guidelines around the world. Previous research had suggested that breakfast eaters were healthier and weighed less. The thinking was that people who skip breakfast end up over-compensating later in the day, and eating more, or reaching for unhealthy foods to fill the gap.

Advertisement

One of the main and best arguments in favour of breakfast is that it's a good opportunity to get some good nutrition into us. If we don't eat breakfast, we have one less meal in which to get the nutrition we need for our day.

Breakfast is a meal that typically lets us get in some fibre, in the form of whole grains from bread and cereal or fruit or vegetables; and some protein, maybe in the form of eggs or milk or yoghurt.

If you're a fan of eggs for breakfast, skip the bacon and add vegetables instead. Photo / Getty Images
If you're a fan of eggs for breakfast, skip the bacon and add vegetables instead. Photo / Getty Images

We're also getting all the other good things that come inside those foods. If we don't have breakfast then we have to really power-pack our other meals and snacks to make sure we get the best and healthiest stuff into the day. Coming at it from another angle, however, there's interesting emerging evidence about the possible benefits of delaying the breaking of the overnight fast – in other words, leaving it a bit longer between dinner and breakfast.

The "16-8" diets, where eating is limited to an eight-hour window during the day, can be an effective weight loss strategy for some people (although it's worth noting the research to date shows it's no better or worse than many other weight-loss diets). Where fasting is really interesting is in the area of gut health. It appears having a longer fast overnight, say, could be a really good thing for our gut bacteria. Our gut bugs, like us, have a circadian rhythm, and it seems they might like to have a rest and recovery period with nothing to do, just like we do.

That doesn't necessarily mean we all need to leave 16 hours between meals, or skip breakfast, if it doesn't suit us. Even getting a good 12-hour break overnight could have a benefit. I find I do this naturally myself; I love breakfast and don't do well without it, but I can't face it as soon as I wake up. I find I need an hour or two up and about before I eat.

If you're someone who needs your brekkie as soon as your feet hit the floor, you could get a 12-hour break by concentrating on the other end of the day: eat dinner as early as you can, and skip the after-dinner snacks.

What this all points to is that everyone is different, and different ways of eating will suit different people. Most of us probably do eat and enjoy breakfast; others might do well without it. There's a big difference, of course, between a breakfast that nourishes and a breakfast that adds nothing in the way of nutrition.

A really good breakfast will supply quality fuel to start the day. If you're a cereal person, go for the "wholest" of whole-grain versions; mueslis and granolas with wholegrain oats, for example, and those full of seeds and nuts, rather than the super-processed cereals. Look for high fibre and low sugar. Add some milk and yoghurt for protein and get a serving of fruit in, and you'll be off to a good start.

Advertisement

If, like me, you're a fan of eggs for breakfast, skip the bacon and add vegetables instead. I like to pop a handful of greens or broccoli or tomatoes into my scrambled eggs to get a vege serve early in the day, plus a spoon of chia seeds for a fibre boost.

Smoothies can be a good option if you're in a hurry; try to get protein into your blend so you stay satisfied. I like a bit of soft tofu; you don't taste it and it makes for a creamy satisfying smoothie. A tofu scramble is a good vegan savoury option.

Bottom line: whenever you eat it, aim to get the best possible boost from your breakfast.

• Niki Bezzant is a food and nutrition writer and speaker, and editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide . Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @nikibezzant