Want a long, healthy life? Here’s why you should be eating breakfast like a king.

Let’s settle the debate: While it depends on the individual, most people will want to aim to eat a meal containing at least 15-30 grams of protein within 90 minutes of waking.

A Bord Bia study shows that 87 per cent of Irish people have breakfast daily, rising to 89 per cent at weekends. Now compare that to Americans, where only about a third of American adults regularly eat breakfast, and over 50 per cent skip breakfast at least once a week.

Aisling Larkin breakfast muffin
Aisling Larkin breakfast muffin

Timing: Circadian Rhythm and Chrononutrtion 

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and have supper like a pauper. In Blue Zones, this is a very common pattern of behaviour. 

Timing – Circadian Rhythm – 90-minute window after waking up

Your circadian Rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that runs in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.

Sleep affects two hormones in the body, which regulate hunger—ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite, while leptin does the opposite. When your body is sleep-deprived, it throws off your Circadian Rhythm, increasing ghrelin levels and decreasing leptin, leading to increased hunger and sugar cravings. 

Your Circadian Rhythm is driven by the body’s internal master clock and is influenced by environmental factors such as:

An example of an environmental cue in action is the signalling of melatonin production in the evening, when daylight fades, making you feel tired. 

This same signalling slows melatonin production in the mornings when you are exposed to light so that you’ll wake up. 

A disrupted circadian rhythm is associated with various adverse health consequences. It can lead to an altered /decreased metabolism and increases blood glucose and sugar levels due to a repressed insulin response. 

This reduction in metabolic rate and increase in blood glucose, in turn, increases the risk of developing chronic metabolic disorders such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

So, say hello to Chrononutrtion

Aisling Larkin overnight oats newstalk breakfast
Aisling Larkin overnight oats newstalk breakfast

Chrononutrition – the idea that when you eat is just as important as what and how you eat.

Studies investigating eating patterns have found that the timing of food intake can influence weight gain no matter your energy intake and physical activity, with a greater consumption energy intake in the evening associated with a higher prevalence of high blood pressure. 

So, how does it work?  

Your first and last meals of the day help regulate your Circadian Rhythm. 

Your last meal of the day triggers lipogenesis, i.e., the process by which fat is stored as adipose. While breakfast, the earliest eating event (which takes place within two hours of waking up from sleep and approximately before 10:00 am) should cause lipogenesis to cease. 

This process is thought to be prolonged when you skip breakfast, increasing fat storage and causing weight gain. 

Other metabolic diseases such as increased blood pressure, diabetes and CVD have also been associated with skipping breakfast. Experts argue that aligning your mealtime with your Circadian Rhythm can help maximise weight loss, improve endurance, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure, among other things. 

Appetite and satiety 

So, what’s the difference? 

Appetite is how physically hungry and full we feel, while satiety refers to fullness on a subconscious and psychological level.

It’s important to acknowledge the difference between the two. So, when you’re hungry, take a breath and ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of one to ten. Think about where the hunger comes from, and try to discern whether it’s emotional or physical.

The best breakfasts & common pitfalls

For optimal breakfasts, keep three things in mind: getting quality calories, eating nutrient-dense foods, and switching from sweet to savoury breakfasts. Let’s break down some common breakfast foods below: 

Cereals  – Most cereals are considered high on the glycemic index, which indicates how much a particular food will raise blood sugar levels. Sugar spikes and the lack of slow-release energy lead to subsequent sugar cravings. The more rapidly your blood sugar spikes, the more quickly it can fall, which can trigger feelings of hunger

If you are eating cereal, a good rule of thumb when looking at the package is four grams of protein and seven grams of dietary fibre in one serving. Also, there is a chance you are eating the wrong portion size. A serving size is usually about 30g (use a scale to measure if you’d like) which is relatively small when we look at it.

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition examined the difference between eating an egg breakfast and a cereal breakfast on calorie intake for the rest of the day. Researchers found that not only did participants report feeling more satisfied and having less hunger when they consumed eggs than they did cereal, but they also saw that egg eaters consumed 438 fewer calories throughout the day than those who poured themselves a bowl of cereal.

Wholegrains  – Stay full for longer with a winning breakfast full of fibre. 

According to a 2022 article in Pub Med from Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, dietary fibre helps reduce hunger, regulate appetite, and prolong satiety.

The best meals for balancing blood sugar have more protein, fibre, and fats and less refined carbs and sugar.

Not all sweet breakfast foods are inherently “bad” for blood sugar—but by swapping sweet items for savoury ones, you have a better chance of incorporating healthy fats, fibre, and protein. 

Protein – keep up that energy until lunch

Protein is powerful. Why? It amps up our satiety cues, helps us feel full for longer and balances blood sugar, meaning that you’re less likely to crave and overindulge in sugary snacks later in the day. 

So, what does a healthy amount of morning protein look like? A general guide is about 15 to 30 grams of protein per meal for most adults. 

Finally, PLEASE, don’t get too hung up on counting every last gram. Instead, focus on incorporating one to two healthy protein sources into your meals.

My top foodie suggestions for breakfast 

Currently on my rotation:

Oats: porridge and overnight oats

Healthy pancakes 

Breakfast Muffins

Morning Green Juice. Here is the juicer I love to use.

Some more recipe inspiration