What is Breakfast?

Breakfast is unique because it breaks a time of fasting (after a night of sleep). You are considered a breakfast eater if you eat your first meal of the day following your longest period of sleep, within 2 to 3 hours of waking and if your meal contains food or beverage from at least one food group. Your breakfast should provide at least 15% of your total daily caloric needs.

Should You Eat Breakfast?

Approximately one in five Americans are “breakfast skippers”. Skipping breakfast, as part of time-restricted eating patterns, such as intermittent fasting, has become increasingly popular as a weight management strategy. However, scientific evidence to support this is lacking. Many scientific studies have shown that breakfast skippers are at an increased risk for weight gain (e.g., increased hunger driving hormones, increased hunger throughout the day) and chronic disease.

A study comparing breakfast eaters to breakfast skippers found that those who ate breakfast had a decrease in appetite, improvement in healthy food choices and improved sleep quality. In addition, a study published in 2018 compared the effects of breakfast and dinner skipping in adult men and women. The study revealed that breakfast skipping, but not dinner skipping, negatively impacted the body’s ability to control blood sugar and insulin.

Research suggests that breakfast is important, but simply eating breakfast may only be half the battle. The true victory comes when you eat a high-quality breakfast packed full of protein and nutrients.

A Balanced Breakfast with Protein

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans who eat breakfast consume too little protein at their breakfast meal and instead, eat the majority of their daily protein at dinner. The higher amount of protein (greatly exceeding 30g of protein) typically consumed at dinner time cannot be stored for later use and is either used for energy or stored as fat.

Figure 1: Protein Distribution between Meals. Adapted from Paddon-Jones and Rasmussen, 2009


A high protein breakfast has been shown to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure (calories burned), satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night .

High protein breakfasts have also been shown to improve the body’s response to a high carbohydrate food up to 4-hours after the breakfast meal. A recent study looked at the effect of a high protein breakfast compared to a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast on the body’s ability to control glucose and insulin following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. Participants consuming a high protein breakfast (30% protein) had improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.


Although breakfast may be the most frequently skipped meal in America, it continues to live up to its reputation as the most important meal of the day. So, when making your next breakfast choice, consider how much protein you have on your plate. Your first meal of the day can have long lasting effects throughout your day and on your long-term health!


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By Jessica Currier

Many observational and epidemiological studies have shown a connection between obesity and sleep deprivation in Americans. Alarmingly, 28% of American adults sleep less than six hours a night. One common reason for this connection is that sleep restriction affects the regulation of appetite hormones like ghrelin and leptin. Energy balance is tightly regulated by a hormonal system, involving ghrelin and leptin, which conveys information from the body to brain centers that control energy intake and expenditure (1). Restricted sleep is thought to increase ghrelin and decrease leptin, which promotes hunger (2). Sleep restriction is also thought to increase cortisol release, increasing eating behavior (2). Another proposed mechanism is that people, who stay awake longer, are exposed to a higher energy intake, specifically by snacking (2). Nevertheless, these explanations have been questioned. The effect of neuronal activity to food stimuli, an increase in energy intake, and the effect on energy expenditure will be reviewed in relation to sleep deprivation and obesity.

In one study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined the effect on brain response to food stimuli in habitual and restricted sleep normal weight individuals (1). The neuronal pattern found in the restricted sleep group was similar to one that would occur when the body is at a low body weight and is trying to restore body stores (1). This study concluded that the restricted sleep group had a greater food intake and greater brain stimuli to areas that are linked with motivation and desire (1). The stimulated brain areas were the orbitofrontal cortex, insula, thalamus, precuneus, cingulate, gyrus, and supramarginal gyrus. (1). With food being widely accessible, this could be one reason associated with weight gain during sleep restriction. However, studies have shown that there are differences between brain responses to satiety and food stimulation in obese and lean individuals (1). Further research needs to be conducted to see if sleep restriction affects this difference.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase energy intake. In another study published in AJCN, researchers found that normal weight women had a significantly higher food intake, specifically in saturated fat, compared to men when sleep was restricted (2). The study did not find an increase in overall energy expenditure. It needs to be noted that gonadotropic-influenced hormones, like estrogen, could have an effect on energy intake (3). High levels of circulating estrogen across the menstrual cycle have been shown to influence energy intake, making food intake lowest during ovulation (3).

Lastly, sleep deprivation is believed to affect overall energy expenditure. Energy expenditure was examined in a group of healthy adolescent boys when sleep was restricted. The results included an increased energy expenditure from increased wake time in the sleep-restricted group while the control group was sleeping (4). There was no change in basal metabolic rate between the conditions (4). No differences in ghrelin and leptin levels were found between the control group and restricted sleep group. Interestingly, this study also found that the adolescents with restricted sleep had a decreased motivation to eat, the opposite of many other experiments.

The link between obesity and sleep deprivation could be a crucial understanding right now due to the alarming rates of obesity in our country. Many assumptions involving ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol have been formed but no known cause-relation effect has been determined. One feasible explanation of why sleep deprivation increases obesity or weight gain is because of brain stimulation and the fact that individuals are awake longer and will be exposed to food stimuli. With advertisements on television and kitchens stocked with food, it is hard to avoid exposure to food at night. If an individual is tired all the time, they are less likely to be physically active too. To decrease calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight strive for seven to nine hours of sleep each night!


1. St-Onge M, McReynolds A, Trivedi Z, Roberts A, Sy M, Hirsch J. Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:818-24.

2. St-Onge M, Roberts A, Chen J, Kelleman M, O’Keeffe, RoyChoudhury A, Jones P. Short sleep duration increases energy intakes but does not change energy expenditure in normal-weight individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94:410-6.

3. Benedict C. Letters To The Editor: Compromised sleep increases food intake in humans: two sexes, same response. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:531.

4. Klingenberg L, Chaput J, Holmback U, Jennum P, Astrup A, Sjodin A. Sleep restriction is not associated with a positive energy balance in adolescent boys. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:240-8.