All About Breakfast

Healthy eating habits should start the day before you even get out of bed. That means: if you want to eat right, you should be doing the mental prep work first. What is the one thing you should be doing before eating? Planning and writing it all down! It’s also a great way to start prioritizing what you should be eating.

We are often guilty of skipping breakfast when we are busy and really not hungry. But skipping breakfast can lead to overeating later on, because we may not be able to feel full. Skipping breakfast also helps us overeat because we don’t get a chance to eat a good breakfast, or we eat too fast and don’t get a chance to eat it all. Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can make you eat a lot more than you would have if you had gotten a good start to your day.

Why is breakfast so important?

One of the top contenders for “worst nutrition cliché” has got to be: “Always eat breakfast.” Lame.

If someone takes the aforementioned advice and stockpiles donuts, sausage biscuits, Go-Gurts, and/or Pop-Tarts for breakfast – they’re way off. They’d probably be better off passing on meal #1 and hoping the PN fairy grants them good sense by the time lunch rolls around.

However, when we venture to the land of “nutritious breakfasts” – over time, we might notice:

  • Less body fat
  • Less chronic, non-communicable disease
  • Improved learning/retention
  • Improved mood
  • Better food choices later in the day
  • Improved energy
  • Muscle preservation
  • Increased strength
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Improved bowel movements
  • Balanced blood sugars

Translation: A nutritious breakfast is probably a good idea.

Step 1: Eat Go-Gurt; Step 2: Put on 3-D glasses; Step 3: Watch body get fat and unhealthy. You can really see that belly coming right out of the mirror at you!

What you should know about breakfast

But what are healthy people eating for breakfast? Isn’t that the type of meal we should be mimicking? Well, certainly they’re not noshing the Denny’s Grand Slam or mom’s timeless scrapple recipe.

Breakfast is a near disaster in North America as many people base their selection on convenience and stimulation rather than nutrition and how they feel afterwards.

In America, the average adult spends 32 minutes each day on food prep and clean up. Divide that by 3 meals, and it means about 10.7 minutes are dedicated to breakfast. Worse yet, the average college male will dedicate less than 7 minutes to the first meal of the day. (And it’s often cold pizza from a box he found on the beer-bottle-littered floor.) That’s barely enough time to microwave a “Bagel-ful.”

If you only have 3 minutes to heat up a Bagel-ful, and can’t quite squeeze in 4 minutes to make a Super Shake from Gourmet Nutrition, you might need to clear your schedule.

Gourmet Nutrition Super Shake

You’ll find that most of the meals healthy people are eating require more than a few minutes (unless it’s prepared ahead of time). Accept it.

If you’re too busy to eat a nutritious breakfast, you’re too busy to be lean and healthy. And while some people intentionally skip breakfast to drop body fat, it doesn’t seem to work in the long run, as those who skip are up to 5 times more likely to be obese than those who make it a daily habit.

Nearly 90% of Americans acknowledge that breakfast is a good idea, still, about half don’t eat it.

And of those eating it, what are they choosing? When I last checked, sales for the fast-food breakfast market reached about $31 billion in 2005, so I’m guessing that people aren’t choosing healthy stuff.

When people eat breakfast at home, the most popular items include:

  • Ready to eat cereals
  • Cow’s milk
  • Coffee

When people eat breakfast away from home, the most popular items include:

  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Pastries
  • Coffee
  • Bagels

Who usually skips meal #1 altogether in North America?

  • Those between the ages of 12 and 29
  • African Americans
  • Low income families

What are healthy people eating for breakfast?

At PN we’ve long encouraged “thinking outside of the donut box” for breakfast. You’ll see that the healthiest nations do too. Developing breakfast habits might be critical, as nearly half of the people that eat breakfast each day claim that their choice is driven by routine.

We’ll highlight some of the healthiest nations and what they choose for breakfast. Among them are the leanest, longest lived, least depressed, lowest cancer rates, lowest heart disease rates and best digestive health. As you read thorough the options, notice similarities and differences, then consider how your choices compare.

Keep in mind that some of the breakfast meals we outline below would be slightly different depending on the region of the country, income, traditions, etc. Still, it gives you an idea what people are eating in other, healthier parts of the world for breakfast.


  • Longest life expectancy on the planet
  • Low levels of various chronic diseases
  • Active into old age

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Steamed rice, rice porridge, rice cakes
  • Seaweed & sea vegetables
  • Green tea
  • Miso & noodle soup
  • Veggie stir-fry
  • Tofu
  • Broiled/grilled fish
  • Eggs

Udon miso noodle soup


Low levels of depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and post-partum depression despite long winters and little sunlight.

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Whole grains (focusing on rye and oatmeal)
  • Skyr/yogurt
  • Bilberries and other fruits
  • Meats
  • Cheese
  • Fish
  • Eggs

Rye crispbread with salmon


Low levels of cardiovascular disease

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Toast/whole grain breads
  • Jam
  • Yogurt with honey
  • Greek coffee
  • Eggs
  • Olives/olive oil
  • Feta cheese

Horta scramble

Copper Canyon Mexica (Tarahumara Indians)

Low levels of type-2 diabetes

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Corn, corn meal, corn tortillas
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Eggs
  • Chiles
  • Herbs/spices

Huevos – eggs, salsa, beans, corn tortillas

North America

  • 70% overweight/obese
  • 1 of every 2 deaths from heart disease or cancer

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Coffee
  • Donuts/pastries
  • Bagels
  • Eggs
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Cold cereal
  • Cow’s milk

Cream cheese and white flour bagel



Typical breakfast selections:

  • Steamed breads (plain or with meat/veggie fillings)
  • Tea
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Rice porridge
  • Flour/rice noodles – cooked with tomato, vegetables or eggs

Plain rice congee (porridge)


  • Low levels of cancer
  • Optimal digestive health

Typical breakfast selections:

  • Millet
  • Matoke (like a banana)
  • Fruits
  • Nuts

Millet porridge with fruit

Summary and recommendations

Consider how the breakfast selections of these countries differ from North America. And consider the differing health outcomes.

Some ideas to consider when putting together breakfast:

  1. Take your time and pace yourself when eating, if you don’t want to allow time in the morning, prepare food ahead of time
  2. Include some protein dense food
  3. Eat enough food
  4. Eat real, unprocessed food
  5. Don’t be afraid of vegetables, or eating “dinner food” (like chicken and salad, or turkey/vegetarian chili) for breakfast
  6. Try whole grains (real whole grains like oats, millet, quinoa, amaranth, sprouted grains, etc.)
  7. Establish a routine that you can stick with

Extra credit

What about AM exercise – should you do it before or after breakfast?

Remember that body composition depends on overall energy balance. The difference between fasted and non-fasted exercise is likely small, assuming nutrition is dialed in the remainder of the day. Focus on exercising when you feel the best and will have the most productive workout.

Further resources

Breakfast recipes and ideas can be found in Gourmet Nutrition.


Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

Kant AK, et al. Association of breakfast energy density with diet quality and body mass index in American adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1999-2004. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:1396-1404.

Siega-Riz AM, et al. Trends in breakfast consumption for children in the United States from 1965-1991. Am J Clin Nutr 1998;67(suppl):748S-756S.

Miller D. The Jungle Effect. 2008. HarperCollins.

Leidy HJ, et al. Increased dietary protein consumed at breakfast leads to initial and sustained feeling of fullness during energy restriction compared to other meal times. BJN 2009;101:798-803.

Neumark-Sztainer D, et al. Dietary approaches to healthy weight management for adolescents: the New Moves model. Adolesc Med State Art Rev 2008;19:421-430.

Benton D. The influence of children’s diet on their cognition and behavior. Eur J Nutr 2008;47 Suppl 3:25-37.

Pearson N, et al. Family correlates of breakfast consumption among children and adolescents. A systematic review. Appetite 2009;52:1-7.

Greenwood JL & Stanford JB. Preventing or improving obesity by addressing specific eating patterns. J Am Board Fam Med 2008;21:135-140.

Moreno LA & Rodriguez G. Dietary risk factors for development of childhood obesity. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2007;10:336-341.

World Health Organization Statistics. WHO.

Cho S, et al. The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). J Am College Nutr 2003;22:296-302.

Breakfast Battles.

Breakfast in America, 2001-2002. (PDF)

Kuczynski KJ, et al. Breakfast in America, 2001-2002 [abstract]. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal 2006;20:A180.

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Click here to download the special report, for free.{“@context”:””,”@type”:”FAQPage”,”mainEntity”:[{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”Why breakfast is so important?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” Breakfast is important because it helps you start your day off right. It gives you energy and nutrients to help you get through the day.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What are some facts about eating breakfast?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” Eating breakfast is associated with a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What will happen if we skip breakfast?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” If you skip breakfast, your blood sugar levels will drop and you may feel hungry soon after.”}}]}

Frequently Asked Questions

Why breakfast is so important?

Breakfast is important because it helps you start your day off right. It gives you energy and nutrients to help you get through the day.

What are some facts about eating breakfast?

Eating breakfast is associated with a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

What will happen if we skip breakfast?

If you skip breakfast, your blood sugar levels will drop and you may feel hungry soon after.

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