Why eating breakfast is bad for your health

Breakfast is a dangerous meal. This might sound provocative, so let me explain. It’s dangerous because it’s eaten soon after we wake and we wake because the hormone cortisol peaks first thing in the morning. Cortisol wakes us up but, for reasons that are obscure, it also causes the body to be resistant to insulin, and in consequence our blood insulin levels rise higher after breakfast than after lunch or dinner.

Such rises will aggravate the condition of insulin resistance, which is the condition that will kill most of the people reading this article.

Anyone who is overweight, hypertensive, unfit or has abnormal levels of cholesterol or triglycerides (well over two thirds of people over the age of 45) will be insulin resistant and is likely to die from the heart attacks and strokes and cancers associated with that condition. For those people to aggravate their condition by eating breakfast is, therefore, folly.

Breakfast, moreover, makes people fat. Contrary to myth, people who eat breakfast do not eat markedly less at lunch, so the calories they eat at breakfast will only add to their total calorie intake. Moreover, many people report that eating breakfast prompts them to snack both mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

So, the interesting question isn’t: is breakfast a dangerous meal? Of course it is. The interesting question is: why have scientists been claiming for a century it’s the most important meal of the day, one we should eat like a king?

Well, one depressing reason is that almost all the relevant research papers are funded by the cereal, bacon or egg companies. Unfortunately those company-funded scientists will select their data and their conclusions artfully.

A more noble explanation lies in free-breakfast programmes. In many countries, children from poor families can receive free breakfasts at school, and scientists can feel an obligation to support those programmes. It is a myth that children do better at school if they eat breakfast but nonetheless scientists fear that any discrediting of breakfast might endanger outreach to the poor.

Which raises an important point: if children are not hungry in the morning, we shouldn’t force them to eat breakfast. They’re not geese on a pâté de fois gras production line, and there’s a reason why so many are not hungry — their bodies are warning them of the dangers of their morning cortisol spikes.

But scientists also have less noble reasons for distorting their data. Challenging established paradigms is hard work, and it can lead funding agencies to withdraw support and journals to not accept papers. Since scientists are judged on their successes with grants and papers, they are thus disincentivised from prioritising truth. It’s just too easy to reinforce the current paradigm.

The simple truth, as Sir Michael Marmot of University College London showed in his 2004 book The Status Syndrome, is that — because they lead less stressful lives — the middle classes outlive the working classes by about seven years. But because the middle classes tend to do as they are told, while the working classes can be bloody-minded, the middle classes tend dutifully to eat their breakfasts while the working classes often skip them.

It is thus only too easy for an ambitious scientist to collect data showing that heart attacks, strokes and cancer correlate with the skipping of breakfast, and to then imply a false cause and effect.

Food research is going through a process of revisionism. Among the false prescriptions that are now being overthrown are the importance of breakfast and the importance of eating frequently. Both prescriptions break a person’s fast, yet we know that fasting is in fact the most healthful state of all, so a regime of only two meals a day (early lunch and early supper) which leaves the body with a night and a morning to recuperate between meals is the best possible one.

What of people who say they cannot function without breakfast? Well, they should be encouraged to eat carbohydrate-free in the mornings. So eggs or Greek yoghurt or strawberries and cream (there is surprisingly little sugar in many berries) or cheese eaten on chicory or lettuce will do little harm.

But most people eat breakfast because they believe they should. Actually, they shouldn’t.

Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal by Terence Kealey is out now, published by 4th Estate.


  • I stopped eating breakfast when I was a kid – my parents left for work before I got out of bed. I never feel like eating when I wake up, and the basic rule is surely “only eat if you’re hungry”.

  • Junius

    I wish my mother had been able to read this warning. She never felt fit to begin her day until she had enjoyed her runny egg and soldiers. Small wonder that she only just reached her hundredth birthday. So sad.

    Likewise, I never come alive in the morning until a bowl of porridge is tucked away, sometimes followed by a round or two of toast and marmalade. Ah well, at 76 there seems little point in stopping now. The shock to my system could do more damage than the deadly threat of insulin resistance so far avoided, Gawd alone knows how.

    • Duke Amir Often

      He’s not talking about a slice or two of toast. He’s talking about a bowl of sugarpops, large glasses of orange juice and all the rest of it as part of an already high sugar diet. That’s what does for people, he says – a massive sugar rush in the morning prompting sugar top ups for the rest of the day.

      Not your oats and blob of marmalade and not your old Mum’s egg, Gawd bless her.

      • karen

        No, he says ‘breakfast is a dangerous meal’ generally and not to eat carbs, which includes toast with marmalade. Only eggs (no toast), natural yoghurt or low sugar berries allowed, but preferably nothing. I have been doing this for years, feel much better for it as not eating until about noon gives you more control over food intake I find.

        • I’m not hungry till late afternoon anyway, and I train in the morning as well. (To put it another way, I exercise strenuously in a fasted state.)

  • south_coast_boyo

    Medium boiled egg, two slices of wholemeal toast, two weetabix with blueberries, orange juice, coffee.

    • Junius

      Weetabix with blueberries! You one o’ them elites we keeps reading about?

      • south_coast_boyo

        thanx ! I’ve gone all flushed.

    • karen

      Weetabix is a fast release carb which will is high on the glycaemic index and will greatly raise blood sugar levels even though there is no sugar added. Cereal is also acid forming. Orange juice is terrible for raising BLS, better to eat an orange.

      • south_coast_boyo

        You are right, I know. A medical man composed an article on another medium last week about acid producing foods that can contribute to esophagus cancer and even apples and tomatoes are suspect. So what is healthy? :o(

      • You and I agree. I hate cereal: never eat it. The only one that is broadly acceptable is Alpen no-sugar-added muesli, but why have that if you could have an egg with a few pan-fried mushrooms?

    • That’s a h=ll of a lot of carbs. Ever tried skipping breakfast just to see what would happen? Or just have the boiled egg and the coffee and miss out the rest.

  • whyayeman

    You mean the slogan ‘Go to work on an egg’ has placed my life in jeopardy?

    Does this ‘revisionism’ entitle me to sue the Egg Marketing Board?

    • Junius

      No, just Fay Weldon.

    • karen

      Eggs are fine, they are protein, but no toast and no ketchup.

    • An egg will do nothing but good: hardly any insulin response, few calories, but a good shot of high-quality protein….

  • Adam

    From the man who thinks free education for children has been a disaster, that all universities should be private, and that curvy female students are a ‘perk of the job’. Well done Spectator, another quality piece of science journalism…

  • Kandanada

    Why breakfast when you can have an extra half hour in lovely bed?

  • The Saintly One

    As an insulin resistant chap, I shall eat eggs in the future, with a tiny touch of bacon,
    Bye bye granola.

  • Richard Lutz

    Seems to me they should be a breakfast tax along with a sugar tax. I also want to force dogs to pay for their board by taxing kennels, much as Trump wants to force Mexico to pay for his wall by taxing Mexican imports to the US.

  • jmjm208

    I know a person who had a fried breakfast nearly every morning until the last few years of his life. He died at 90 and, until the last couple of years, was in good nick.

  • plainsdrifter

    “But most people eat breakfast because they believe they should. Actually, they shouldn’t.”

    In no time at all, another ‘expert’ will say, “People eat breakfast because they believe it sets them up for starting the day. And so they should.”

    • A lot of people are actually not hungry till they’ve been up and about for a few hours. I’m one of them. (In fact I can fast quite easily until the early evening, most days.) We’ve been nagged for years that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. I’m glad that particular myth is finally being given a rest.

  • Ingmar Blessing

    Yeah, why not. Now, that we scrap every single bit of our heritage, traditions, values and historic truths, why not that one too. As a kid (pre-internet) I learned: “Eat breakfast like an emperor, eat lunch like a king and eat dinner like a poor man.”

    Let’s just turn that around and maybe change it to: “Eat like a Sultan during Ramadan.” Or something like that.

    Bottom line: Just piss off, post-modern-hedonistic era where every other study tells us the past 200 generations got it all wrong and it’s on us (=our government to force us) to turn around literally everything… or we all die.

    It really isn’t a riddle, why the people feels disenfranchised by its own elites&”experts”

  • Susan Lynch

    So now what? Skip breakfast?

    party line

  • Anyone who is overweight, hypertensive, unfit or has abnormal levels of cholesterol or triglycerides
    Er… having excess triglycerides is what being overweight means.