The researchers noted that while breakfast tends to be emphasized as important by parents of children, many adults don’t hold themselves to the same standards. Past studies have shown that adults who skip breakfast are more likely to develop certain chronic diseases, potentially including diabetes. And studies have also shown that in people who already have diabetes, eating a bigger breakfast is linked to both better blood glucose control and a lower overall risk of death. But the reasons why eating breakfast may contribute to the risk for chronic diseases haven’t been explored in depth. For this study, researchers were specifically interested in whether skipping breakfast was linked to a lower overall intake of important nutrients.
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The study’s participants were 30,889 adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). All participants lived in their community rather than an institutional setting (such as a nursing home or other care facility), were U.S. citizens, and were not pregnant. Each participant completed a detailed 24-hour dietary intake survey, and the researchers used this data to create estimates of overall nutrient and energy intake. A scale called the Healthy Eating Index was used to estimate overall dietary quality, and gaps in the intake of specific nutrients were calculated based on government guidelines for Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) or Adequate Intake (AI). The researchers adjusted for differences in diet and nutrient intake linked to age, sex, income, race or ethnicity, and marital status.
Skipping breakfast linked to lower overall diet quality
The researchers found that participants who skipped breakfast consumed more total calories, carbohydrate, added sugars, and both total and saturated fat throughout the rest of the day, compared with those who ate breakfast. But despite this higher intake of calories, sugar, and fat, they had a lower overall intake of folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and D. They were also significantly less likely to meet the Estimated Average Requirement or Adequate Intake for these nutrients. Not surprisingly given these nutrient gaps, people who skipped breakfast had a lower overall diet quality as measured by the Healthy Eating Index.
“Breakfast provides a unique opportunity to consume important micronutrients that may be less present in subsequent meals,” the researchers concluded. It’s unclear, though, whether people who tended to skip breakfast could close their nutritional gaps simply by adding this extra meal, since people who skip breakfast may simply be less aware of or concerned about their nutrition. More research is needed to look at whether skipping breakfast leads to greater cravings for calorie-dense foods containing higher levels of sugar and fat, or whether people who eat these kinds of foods may not be as hungry for breakfast when they wake up.
Want to learn more about having a healthy breakfast? Read “What Should You Eat for Breakfast If You Have Diabetes?”
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