Breakfast has often been called the most important meal of the day, and while the overall health benefits are largely debated, recent research has found that eating breakfast may have special importance for heart health.
- Skipping breakfast may be bad for your heart, as research has found that it is associated with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes.
- Research has also found that skipping breakfast is associated with a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, even when controlling for other factors.
- Overall, eating meals at regular intervals is the best approach for heart health – here’s what you can eat for a quick, heart-healty breakfast.
For example, studies have indicated that skipping breakfast is associated with a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Here’s what the research says and what you should eat for a heart-healthy breakfast.
Non-breakfast eaters had 87% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease,” says Wei Bao, MD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, and lead author of the study. “This estimate has already accounted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, body mass index, and cardiovascular risk factors.”
The study looked at data from 6,500 adults ages 40 to 75 who participated in a national health survey, and followed up with those individuals after 17 to 23 years. People who reported never eating breakfast had a 1.87 hazard ratio for cardiovascular mortality – a relative increase of 87% – when compared to those who ate breakfast every day.
“The finding itself is very straightforward: people who skip breakfast regularly had increased risk for cardiovascular mortality and total mortality,” Bao says.
The study had two limitations: people self-reported their breakfast habits, so the researchers couldn’t verify the exact accuracy of when they skipped breakfast. In addition, the researchers had no information on what the breakfast eaters were eating, and whether it was healthy or not.
What to eat for a heart-healthy breakfast
Many lifestyle changes that improve cardiovascular health, like exercising or reducing salt consumption, can be difficult for people to implement.
“A very important take-home message from this paper is that this might be an easy change for people to consider in terms of promoting their cardiovascular health,” Bao says.
Katherine Stys, wellness program manager at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, says that choosing a healthy breakfast on the run can be easy. According to Stys, you should focus on whole grains, fruits, and healthy proteins, and skip morning beverages like juice or coffee with lots of added sugar.
Stys suggests these heart-healthy breakfasts:
- Whole grain English muffin with peanut butter
- Oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and nuts
- Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and fresh sliced fruit
- Homemade smoothies with low-fat yogurt, fruit, nut butter, 100% juice, herbs, and vegetables
- Hard-boiled eggs with avocado and tomato
More research is needed to determine exactly how breakfast affects the heart
Scientists haven’t discovered why skipping breakfast is associated with unhealthy habits and worse cardiovascular health. “Right now there is no study that has discovered the underlying mechanism,” Bao says.
However, some research has indicated that skipping meals might affect the body’s circadian rhythms, or internal clock. Disrupted circadian rhythms have been associated with diabetes and hypertension, which increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Overall, research has found that eating meals at regular, predictable intervals is the best approach for heart health. But further research is needed to determine the importance of breakfast, and to figure out exactly how skipping the first meal of the day affects the heart.