Breakfast…may I have a definition?

By Audrey Roen

Breakfast. The morning meal, right? The missing piece of your complete and balanced diet. Although breakfast has long held the title of The Most Important Meal of the Day, it is a mystery to researchers of the nutrition field because no one knows exactly how to define it. In December, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics released studies that showed breakfast is the meal most often skipped. The studies also reported that a nutritious breakfast remains “poorly defined.”

Despite previously conducted studies on the health benefits of regularly eating breakfast—long term improvements in diet, cognitive function, weight management and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease—researchers recognized the need for a single, standard definition of breakfast amidst a sea of frantic health bloggers and Dr. Oz fans.

I’ll be honest, this rattled my brain. In all my years I’ve heard countless breakfast tips, facts, do’s and don’ts but I’ve always thought I had a pretty good idea of what it means to eat a healthy breakfast. What could be so complicated? But then I tried to come up with a definition (any definition) on my own and it proved to be much harder than I thought. Think about it: is there one phrase, sentence or figure you have read that defines a breakfast meal? According to the Academy, there are no standards of food composition, timing, or appropriate amounts of energy and nutrients that define breakfast.

Going back in time, the 1917 issue of the magazine Good Health tried to get us off on the right foot by providing one of the earliest definitions of a healthy breakfast to the public. Lenna Cooper wrote, “In many ways, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, because it is the meal that gets the day started…It should not be eaten hurriedly, and all the family, so far as possible, should partake of it together. And above all, it should be made up of easily digested foods and balanced in such a way that the various food elements are present in the right proportions. It should not be a heavy meal, consisting of over five to seven hundred calories.”

Recently, the authors of a 2014 study titled The Role of Breakfast in Health: Definition and Criteria for a Quality Breakfast attempted to determine if

individuals who eat breakfast are naturally healthier and practice positive lifestyles or if breakfast itself positively impacts energy balance. The researchers’ goal was to create a definition of a nutritious breakfast that can help keep breakfast messages consistent and communicate nutritional guidelines to the general public.

The researchers created a definition of breakfast that dietitians and health promoters can provide for their clients: “Breakfast is the first meal of the day that breaks the fast after the longest period of sleep and is consumed within two to three hours of waking; it is comprised of food or beverage from at least one food group, and may be consumed at any location.”

To some of you this might not seem like much but believe me when I say it’s definitions like these we need more of. Definitions like this clarify exact times, quantities and types of food dietitians can suggest for their clients and researchers can use for concrete results. Definitions like this provide one clear target, one mindset and one set of qualifications needed to ensure health and wellbeing. While being tailored to varying nutritional needs and diets, dietitians would know what to recommend to their patients, researchers would better understand their variables, and heck even college students would know what they are eating for a change!

My fellow foodies, there is hope for the future! I wish you many good breakfasts and hope this definition of the “most important meal of the day” will work to better your morning diet…not Dr. Oz.