The surprising danger of skipping breakfast

You know that breakfast has plenty of benefits: It boosts your energy, curbs your midday cravings and helps keep you at a healthy weight. But if you’re still skipping the first meal of the day, there’s another perk you’re passing up: Missing even one breakfast each week increases your risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 percent, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers from the Harvard University School of Public Health analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of 46,289 women over the course of six years. At the end of the study, they found that women who skipped breakfast here and there had a 20 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than those who ate it on a daily basis. The risk is even higher for full-time working women who missed their morning meal sometimes: 54 percent.

The importance of a daily breakfast held up after the researchers adjusted the results to account for the effects of age, BMI, carbohydrate consumption, cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, and working status.

More: The Best Breakfasts Ever

Another study of more than 3,000 men and women published in Diabetes Care found that eating breakfast frequently also lowers the risk of obesity and high blood pressure. That same University of Minnesota study revealed that only 35 percent of participants actually ate a meal every morning, though.

Why is eating breakfast so important to your health? Turns out, it’s all in the timing.

“When you go to bed, your insulin level is flat -- not too low, not too high,” lead study author Rania Mekary, a research associate at the Harvard University School of Public Health in the department of nutrition, said.

When you don’t ‘break the fast’ in the morning, your insulin level drops -- so when you have lunch later in the day, it’s more likely to spike, then crash again.

Over time, this constant flux in insulin levels can cause your body to build up an insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, you can cut your risk significantly by sticking to a daily breakfast schedule. You should aim to eat within an hour or two of waking up, Mekary said -- and coffee or tea alone won’t cut it.

While even unhealthy breakfasts were better for lowering diabetes risk than no breakfast at all, researchers found the best outcomes resulted from daily breakfasts that were low in sugar and high in nutrients like fiber and protein.

Need some morning meal motivation? Try one (or more) of these tasty, healthful recipes:

Oats-Almond Mixed Berry Crisp

Fruit and Spice-Cut Oatmeal

Minted Honey-Lime Fruit Salad

Double Tomato and Turkey Bacon Omelette

Soy Milk Berry Smoothie

More: 5 Smoothies That Make You Look and Feel Awesome