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Promotion of Health or Profit? - "Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day"

Dr. Craig Smith, MD

4 Min read

For decades, the adage "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" has been ingrained in our minds. From jump-starting metabolism to aiding concentration, the importance of breakfast has been championed. But, what if this widely accepted belief is more of a 20th-century invention than a timeless truth? Delving into history, we find a narrative that challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding breakfast.

A Journey Through Time:

In ancient times, our ancestors lived without the certainty of regular meals, relying on sporadic hunting and gathering for survival. The concept of breakfast as a crucial meal did not exist during these times. It was only with the advent of civilization that daily routines began to take shape. Medieval Europe, for example, did not widely endorse breakfast, deeming it necessary only for those with early work schedules or the elderly. The 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas even considered eating before morning mass a sin. Fasting, a religious practice, was embedded in the very term "breakfast" – the breaking of one's fast. The notion of breakfast as a significant meal began to take root around the 17th century, coinciding with the Reformation of the church.

The 16th century, marked by the Tudors, saw the emergence of modern breakfasts, a consequence of the evolving concept of employment. With the Industrial Revolution and the shift from farms to factories, breakfast became more formalized. The 9-to-5 workday further solidified breakfast as a societal norm, and it became customary to eat before heading to work or school.

Marketing Influence:

The phrase "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" is often attributed to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and James Caleb Jackson, both 7th Day Adventists. This slogan, rooted in marketing brilliance, aimed to promote breakfast cereals. Dietitian Lenna Cooper popularized the phrase in a 1917 article for Good Health magazine, a publication associated with Kellogg's sanitarium.

Kellogg's invention of grain-based cereals had a dual purpose. Beyond promoting general health, it was crafted with a specific medical agenda in mind – an anaphrodisiac diet to suppress sexual desire and steer people away from sin. Kellogg believed that meat consumption exacerbated sexual impulses. This curious blend of health promotion and moral agenda laid the foundation for the widespread adoption of breakfast cereals.

Convenience Over Health:

Contrary to popular belief, the popularity of breakfast cereals did not stem from their health benefits but rather from convenience. Early cereals required slow cooking, but the ones that gained popularity were those that could be quickly prepared. Manufacturers capitalized on this by making cereals sweeter, appealing to sugar cravings and ensuring repeat customers. Cereal remains a significant part of the morning routine, particularly for children, as evident from Kellogg's substantial profits.

Deconstructing the Myth:

Despite decades of being told that breakfast is crucial for weight loss and hunger prevention, recent research challenges these claims. A 2019 review in the British Medical Journal found no compelling evidence supporting the idea that breakfast promotes weight loss or that skipping it leads to weight gain. The study concluded that all meals are equal in terms of their impact on metabolism and appetite regulation. Co-author of the study, Flavia Cicuttini, emphasized, "We found that breakfast is not the most important time of the day to eat, even though that belief is really entrenched in our society and around the world." The study debunked the notion that consuming breakfast enhances metabolism or prevents hunger later in the day. For those aiming to manage weight or calorie intake, altering dietary plans to include breakfast showed no significant benefits.


In reassessing the historical origins of breakfast and its supposed importance, it becomes evident that the belief in breakfast as the pinnacle of daily meals is a relatively recent development. The Tudors, the Industrial Revolution, and clever marketing strategies all played a role in shaping this narrative. The 20th-century slogan championing breakfast as the most important meal was not born out of timeless wisdom but was a calculated marketing move.

About the Author

In 1984, Dr. Craig Smith founded Lifesource. As a coach, he's worked with world-class athletes and guided thousands towards successful weight loss. Driven by a desire to elevate his understanding of the human body, he returned to the rigors of medical school in his 50s, achieving his goal of becoming a physician at 56. Now in his 60s, Dr. Smith leads by personal example, continuing to inspire, educate and empower individuals from all walks of life to achieve their health and fitness goals. If you wish to train and diet online with Dr. Smith, hear his message and schedule a 45-minute consultation on the New You page.