Breakfast is perhaps the easiest meal of the day to skip, but one of the most important to sneak in. Eating breakfast bestows many health benefits ranging from increased energy to weight loss, both important for people dealing with chronic pain.

Despite the benefits, about one in ten people in the U.S. skip food first thing in the morning, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. Most people said they weren’t hungry or didn’t have time to eat before 11 a.m.

Research shows that eating a high-protein breakfast supports weight loss because it reduces the likelihood of overeating later in the day, according to researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Assistant professor Heather Leidy says:

“Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast…However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory—or high-fat—foods.”

That’s because eating breakfast increases the brain’s levels of the chemical dopamine, which moderates feelings of reward and food cravings. Heightened production of dopamine helps stave off food cravings, but researchers found that people who are overweight tend to require more food to reach that elevated state. Conversely, scientists found that people who ate high-protein breakfasts had higher levels of dopamine.

Eating a high-protein breakfast helps to stave off cravings for unhealthy food later in the day, researchers say.

Earlier research conducted by Leidy found that people who skip breakfast generally eat 40% more sugary foods, 45% fewer vegetables, and 30% fewer fruits compared to breakfast eaters.

However, the breakfast habit must be hard to maintain because all the study participants resumed skipping the meal within six months after the research ended. Those who abandoned eating early said it was hard to find healthy options.

Dr. Mike Roussell says that eating a healthy meal first thing also sets the tone for other wise health choices. He writes:

“By having a well-rounded and nutritious breakfast, you are sending a message to your body that you are going to do what it takes to be fit and healthy.”

The UCM research isn’t the only study to uncover benefits from eating a high-protein breakfast. Scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared two groups of women, one set that ate bagels for breakfast and another that ate two eggs, according to WebMD.

The meals contained an identical number of calories, but the egg eaters lost weight and reported increased energy. The eggs also made no difference in blood cholesterol levels, which has been a concern for frequent egg eaters.

Proponents of skipping breakfast say eliminating the meal is a tool for weight loss, mainly because it lowers a person’s intake of calories and carbohydrates. Researchers at Australia’s Monash University found patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who skipped breakfast lost inches in their waists, which scientists said is a way of measuring improvements in liver health.

However critics say weight isn’t the only barometer of health. Australian nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan told the Syndey Morning Herald:

“If you’re eating less in total, you might be also getting less nutrients…You might lose weight, but that’s not the only important thing to health.”

Besides physical health, there is some evidence that eating breakfast supports cognitive health. A study completed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that children who regularly nosh on breakfast scored higher on IQ tests.

Breakfast may not only help you lose weight, it may make you smarter.

Although the research focused on children, scientists said those good habits continue through the rest of life. Study author Jianghong-Liu says:

“Irregular breakfast eating has already been associated with a number of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, frequent alcohol use, and infrequent exercise.”

Breakfast may also lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, reports WebMD. And for those with diabetes, eating first thing in the morning is important for maintaining blood sugar levels, according to Everyday Health.

With so many researchers supporting the idea that breakfast encourages a healthy lifestyle, including the meal in your daily routine can’t hurt.

Looking to start the healthy breakfast habit? Here are some easy meals to try:

  • Eggs cooked any way you like in olive oil, served with a slice of whole-grain toast and jam
  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit and yogurt (yogurt contains protein)
  • Oatmeal with sliced fruit and nuts, cooked in water, skim milk, or almond milk
  • Hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit

Making time for breakfast when you’re rushing out the door in the morning can be a challenge. But by preparing food the night before, you’ll be two steps ahead. Options include pre-slicing fruit or even taking a banana on the road. Overnights oats are also an easy and fun option. Eggs can be hard-boiled the night before, and slicing a piece of toast to hold a thin layer of peanut butter takes just a few seconds more than toasting a pop tart.

Breakfast doesn’t have to take 20 minutes to prepare. Simple, healthy foods provide fuel for the day ahead.

The key to eating a breakfast that gives you all the benefits of increased energy, improved mental acuity, and support for weight loss is keeping it healthy. Sure, you can eat a doughnut or a croissant and call it breakfast, but research shows eating a meal with protein offers the most benefit. Keep in mind that Greek yogurt, nuts, and peanut butter are all excellent sources of protein.

Incorporating fruit into a morning meal is a great way to appease the sweet tooth while enjoying the anti-inflammatory benefits of all those antioxidants. Experiment with a few meals to find your favorite breakfast, and do what you can to make it a quick and easy meal to prepare.

Do you eat breakfast?

Image by Chloe Lim via Flickr

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