Americans love breakfast. According to recent data, sales for breakfast items are passing those for lunch and dinner, and multiple fast food stops like McDonald’s are planning to soon offer breakfast fare 24/7.
Here are five things you didn’t know you wanted to know about the most important meal of your day.
Breakfast food is a surprisingly recent invention.
The concept of breakfast food didn’t exist in the U.S. until the mid to late 1800s, according to Abigail Carroll, food historian and author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal. “People ate breakfast, but it looked a lot like dinner or a snack,” she says. In the 1600s, breakfast was likely to be leftovers, cheese and bread, or stewed grains. Beginning in the mid 1700s to 1800s, people started to add meat and fish to their morning meal. “Meat became standard and central to breakfast and it represented growing prosperity,” says Carroll. “There wasn’t enough meat to have it as the center of breakfast before.”
When people began flocking to cities, they continued to eat large, farmers-sized breakfasts despite being more sedentary, and indigestion (called dyspepsia at the time) became a common health complaint. Dietary reformers like Sylvester Graham started promoting diet changes like vegetarianism and consumption of whole grains as a way to combat dyspepsia. A certain type of whole wheat flour called graham flour (named after Graham of course) became popular.
Another health reformer, James Caleb Jackson, used graham flour to create the first breakfast cereal in 1863 which he called Granula. “He took the graham flour, mixed it with water, baked it, took it out, broke it up, baked it again and came out with the first breakfast cereal which was to be eaten soaked in water or milk,” says Carroll. Some years later, John Harvey Kellogg invented his own cereal version, eventually calling it “Granola.”
Yogurt for breakfast is a very recent phenomenon in the U.S.
Some reports cite the 1980s as the first bump in popularity when low-fat yogurt options came to market, just in time for the low-fat diet craze. The astronomical rise of Greek yogurt is even more recent. Fage, a popular Greek yogurt company based in Greece began distributing in the U.S. in 1998. According to Food Navigator, in 2007 Greek yogurt made up less than 1% of the U.S. yogurt market, but today accounts for over half of dollar sales in the yogurt category.
It’s probably not, in fact, the most important meal of the day.
In June 2014, two studies caused a buzz when they refuted what many thought to be indisputable benefits of breakfast. Prior studies associated eating breakfast with lower body weight, and breakfast continues to be recommended as a way to kick off the day with a healthy metabolism. However, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that skipping breakfast didn’t have any notable effect on weight loss efforts in a 16-week study of obese and overweight participants. Another study found that eating breakfast every morning was not associated with metabolism improvement.
“The general question about whether breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’ is not grounded in scientific data but more of an old saying,” says author of the second study, James A. Betts of the University of Bath.
Conversely, in a study published in the journal Circulation, Harvard School of Public Health researchers looked at the health outcomes of 26,902 men and found that men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared to men who regularly ate breakfast. The researchers believe that people who do not eat breakfast end up eating more at night, which could lead to metabolic changes and heart disease. It may depend person to person, but if you’re hungry in the morning it’s still a good idea to eat, even if it may not be the number one factor for better health.
Fiber and protein are the most important factors in a healthy breakfast.
To get the most vitamins and minerals in the morning, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating a breakfast made up of either whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables. Consider foods like oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, or smoothies without added sugar. A healthy breakfast should make you feel more energized throughout the day.
You can eat dessert with breakfast
Eating a sugary treat in the morning may not be the optimal choice for sustained energy, but don’t cut out that pain au chocolat just yet. Some research suggests eating a little something sweet in the morning can help curb sweet tooth cravings later on. A 2012 study for instance found that people who were eating a low calorie diet and a healthy breakfast, but also incorporated a dessert, had better weight loss results. They reported having fewer cravings and feeling less hungry throughout the day. That doesn’t mean you should eat cake for breakfast every day, but if you’re eating healthy most of the time, that occasional morning pastry isn’t such a bad choice.