Skipping Breakfast May Have You Missing Out on Key Nutrients, Study Shows

Oatmeal bowl

Key Takeaways

  • Missing the first meal of the day could set you up for nutritional gaps, a recent study suggests.
  • Even if you make up the calories later, researchers note that you could fall short of certain vitamins and minerals.
  • A dietitian suggests that if you really dislike breakfast, you can get the nutrients by putting those foods into later meals.

Missing breakfast may lead to nutritional gaps that can persist even after you eat later meals, according to a study in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

Researchers looked at about 31,000 U.S. adults who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They provided data on dietary consumption as well as timeframes for eating.

About 15% of participants skipped breakfast on a regular basis, and researchers found that people in that group were less likely to meet daily recommendations for essential vitamins and minerals, including folate, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B-complex, C, and D.

The reason for the shortfall is likely related to the nutrient density of everyday breakfast foods, according to the study’s author, Christopher Taylor, PhD, associate professor of medical dietetics at The Ohio State University.

“If you don’t eat the foods commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day,” he says. “So, those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap.” The researchers note that those foods include:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Low-fat dairy like milk and yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal or steel cut oats
  • Fruits and vegetables

Even just a day or two of skipping breakfast could have an effect, Taylor adds. Participants’ consumption patterns allowed researchers to assess day-to-day changes, and he notes that nutrients were lacking on the days when breakfast was missed.

When Snacking Replaces Breakfast

Another finding from the recent study is that participants who skipped breakfast also consumed significantly more calories during the day, as well as higher levels of added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat when compared to those who tended to eat breakfast every day.

“Skipping breakfast seems to lead to lower diet quality overall,” says Taylor. Also, he says that without breakfast, there was more snacking by participants throughout the day, particularly high-calorie choices.

Christopher Taylor, PhD

If you don’t eat the foods commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day, so, those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap.

— Christopher Taylor, PhD

Previous research has also noted other benefits to including breakfast to your regular routine. For example, a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that eating a big breakfast burns calories more effectively than eating the same amount at dinner.

Those researchers suggest the reason is likely related to how well a morning meal fires up your metabolism during digestion. Research in this area is mixed, however, so it’s not a given that breakfast automatically equals weight loss.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that people who never ate breakfast had a higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who had breakfast every day.

What If You Hate Breakfast?

Despite the recent research and previous studies, some people are simply not interested in breakfast, says Kristin Gillespie, RD, a dietitian and certified nutrition support coach. For example, if you follow an intermittent fasting plan that extends your time between meals from dinner until lunch the next day, your “breakfast” might not be until noon.

Does that mean they’ll always fall short of nutrients? Not necessarily, Gillespie says, but it may require a more thoughtful approach to prevent nutritional gaps.

“Incorporating breakfast foods, like eggs, milk, and oats into your later meals and snacks can help ensure that you are ingesting adequate amounts of those fortified nutrients,” she says.

Kristin Gillespie, RD

Incorporating breakfast foods, like eggs, milk, and oats into your later meals and snacks can help ensure that you are ingesting adequate amounts of those fortified nutrients.

— Kristin Gillespie, RD

Also, she adds, keep in mind that not all breakfast choices are healthy options. A stroll down any cereal aisle will make it obvious that there are plenty of sugar-packed choices that would not qualify as “nutrient dense” in the way the recent research suggests.

“Especially with cereals, it’s important to consider all aspects,” she says. “I wish those sugary, delicious cereals were healthy. But if you’re eating one that’s fortified with vitamins and minerals, a high sugar content will negate some of those benefits.”

She suggests choosing breakfast options with minimal added sugars and made from whole grains to ensure that you’re maximizing the nutritional benefit of that food.

Adding in fresh fruits and vegetables can help as well, especially if you’re eating a later breakfast or trying to make up nutrients in the second part of the day.

What This Means For You

Skipping breakfast could set you up for nutritional gaps throughout the day. If you do have to miss the morning meal, one solution could be taking a more thoughtful approach to nutrition to make sure you're getting key nutrients.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fanelli S, Walls C, Taylor C. Skipping breakfast is associated with nutrient gaps and poorer diet quality among adults in the United States. Proc Nutr Soc. 2021;80(OCE1):E48. doi:10.1017/S0029665121000495

  2. Richter J, Herzog N, Janka S, Baumann T, Kistenmacher A, Oltmanns KM. Twice as high diet-induced thermogenesis after breakfast vs dinner on high-calorie as well as low-calorie meals. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020;105(3):e211-e221. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgz311

  3. Rong S, Snetselaar LG, Xu G, et al. Association of skipping breakfast with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73(16):2025-2032. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2019.01.065

By Elizabeth Millard, CPT, RYT
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.