The Western world is split into two camps: those who go to sleep at night dreaming of breakfast the next morning, and those who choose to skip it entirely. Those of the latter subset might chalk their choice up to a lack of appetite, or a necessity of a fasting regimen. Fasting has been championed by countless fitness mongols and journalistic alike for its metabolic benefits. This theory has some clout — the long-held theory we’ve been spoon-fed since birth that eating breakfast kick starts metabolism has since been proven a myth. What really matters for metabolism is the total amount of food consumed in a day; the time of day and frequency make no difference.
But, recent findings have found that breakfast eaters may have an advantage in one arena: mental health. A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research has found that skipping breakfast is linked to a greater risk of depression.
The experiment was conducted out of Japan. In a series of surveys, the researchers asked 716 factory workers between the ages of 19 and 68 about their breakfast habits. Next, they assessed each participant’s inclination for depressive symptoms, delineated by six symptoms of depression on a depression scale. The researchers discovered that the participants who regularly opted out of breakfast demonstrated depressive symptoms, even after adjusting for things like alcohol consumption, sleep habits, smoking, job stress, and physical movement levels.
The participants who ate breakfast less than once a week exhibited a greater risk of depressive symptoms compared to those who consumed breakfast every day. The study also found frequency of consumption to play a part. Participants who ate breakfast as the lowest frequency a week demonstrated the highest risk of depression. This conclusion of the study implies that regularly having breakfast defends against the onset of depression.
The researchers delved into the chemistry behind this phenomenon, surmising that the protective quality of consuming breakfast is caused by decreased levels of cortisol in the body. The body, in response to a lack of food upon awakening in the morning, has a psychological response by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, two properties that inhibits the release of serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” hormone. In response to this, most non-depressive people seek to remedy this involuntary drop in serotonin by eating breakfast. Skipping it entirely only extends the length of time your body is depleted of serotonin.
In light of these findings, if you’re struggling with depression you might be inclined to start eating a healthy portion of food in the morning, if breakfast isn’t already part of your morning routine. But bear in mind that what you choose to chow-down on matters. Mediterranean diets have been said time and time again to lower risk of developing depressive symptoms; the diet is also bespoke for its manifold heart health and anti-aging benefits.
So rise and shine to a full buffet of olive oil and leafy vegetables galore. If anything, being stuck inside the house all day at least allows us more time to experiment in the kitchen.