I’ve long had mixed feelings about the whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” edict. I think some people absolutely need to eat breakfast, while other people do fine with waiting until a bit later to break their overnight fast. I think that no one should be eating donuts and a big sugary espresso drink for breakfast. That’s not breakfast…that’s dessert.

Anyway, some new research has kind of blown a hole in part of the breakfast theory. The old thinking was that people who ate a nice big breakfast ate less at other meals of the day. Now, it looks like that’s not true. If you eat more calories at breakfast, you eat about the same amount of calories at other meals as you would if you had eaten a small breakfast. The result? More total calories for the day.

The problem is that some of the earlier research was misinterpreted. It looked at a group of people who all ate a set number of calories per day (let’s just say 2,000). The people from that group who ate a bigger breakfast did eat fewer calories at the day’s other meals than did those who ate a small breakfast. Well, duh! If you have a daily calorie cap, and you use up more of those calories at breakfast, then by default you end up eating fewer calories at your other meals. Sheesh.

So what’s the takeaway here? If you are satisfied with a piece of fruit or something else light for breakfast, don’t feel like you need to stuff your face with something heartier. The “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” rules clearly don’t apply to everyone. I firmly believe that whatever you do eat should be healthy, but I feel that way about other meals, too.

If you do eat a medium-to-large breakfast, and have more calories to spend, I endorse always including some fruit (something I need to impress upon some of my coworkers). From there, some whole grain fiber is good (oatmeal or other cooked grains, or a slice of whole grain toast), along with some protein (from eggs or plain yogurt) and some healthy fat (nuts on your cooked grains or nut butter on your toast). I give out bonus points if you include some colorful vegetables, too (potatoes don’t count).

The fruit-fiber-protein-healthy fat combo will usually keep you satisfied longer, even if you don’t eat huge portions. I don’t know about you, but when I occasionally eat a bowl of cold cereal with milk and a banana, I’m starving again in no time. I love Kashi’s Autumn Wheat, but I have to make it an occasional breakfast treat food for that reason.

Finally, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If skipping breakfast makes you feel a) weak and light headed or b) so ravenous by mid-morning that you are shoving your face in the breakroom donut box, then you need to become a (healthy) breakfast eater. Stop kidding yourself that you don’t like/need breakfast or that you don’t have time for breakfast. There’s always some time…and you can find some ideas in this goodie from my archives.