There are so many reasons to have a daily breakfast. When you wake up in the morning, your body has been on a mini-fast and your tank is empty. Eating a morning meal will stoke your metabolism and provide your body with necessary mental and physical fuel. Individuals who commit to eating a daily breakfast tend to have healthier weight and healthier cholesterol profile. In fact, skipping breakfast appears to be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic plaque and narrowing (hardening) of the arteries.
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) found that there arecertain daily habits that have huge health payoffs. These habits are worthy targets because they offer easy opportunities to prevent disease. Brushing your teeth every morning can help to improve your oral health and prevent gum disease, tooth decay, support strong teeth and also help to limit heart disease. Eating a breakfast that is balanced and nutrient-rich every morning has now been linked to heart health. So skipping breakfast is associated with increased cardiovascular (CVD) risk, specifically hardening of the arteries.
Skipping breakfast was previously linked to coronary heart disease. This new study examined different breakfast eating patterns to see if and how it might relate to heart disease risk – specifically presence, distribution and extension of subclinical atherosclerosis.
This study was done within a larger research project, the PESA (Progression of Early Subclinical Atherosclerosis) study. PESA involved over 4000 subjects who were free of heart events (heart and kidney disease) at the start or baseline of the large study. Participants ranged in age from 40 to 54. Lifestyle habits via computerized questionnaires and multi-vascular imaging was collected from the subjects. For this study, the lifestyle data collected was used to identify diet elements and breakfast patterns. Three groups were identified:
- Breakfast skippers - Individuals who consumed less than 5 percent of their total daily energy intake (calories) at breakfast. These individuals typically had black coffee or a glass of juice in the morning.
- Low breakfast consumers – Individuals who consumed between 5 and 20 percent of their total daily energy intake at breakfast.
- Breakfast consumers – Individuals who consumed more than 20 percent of their total daily energy intake at breakfast.
In terms of actual numbers, out of 4052 subjects, 2.9 percent skipped breakfast, 69.4 percent were low energy breakfast consumers, and 27.7 percent were breakfast consumers. Atherosclerosis rates were highest among those individuals who skipped or severely skimped on breakfast, and next highest in the low breakfast consumer group. Skipping breakfast was associated with other poor health variables including: large waist, higher BMI, higher blood pressure, higher blood lipid levels and higher blood glucose levels. Those who skipped breakfasts were also found to be more likely to have unhealthy diets, higher alcohol consumption, and to be smokers. Skipping breakfast and obesity may be bi-directionally linked because if you’re diagnosed as obese, you may try to skip breakfast to lose weight. On the other hand, skipping breakfast can make you binge on food, usually unhealthy foods, later in the day and contribute to obesity risk. Eating breakfast has been shown to support a healthier weight.
People who skip breakfast tend to have other unhealthy habits. This study shows that proactively changing just one habit can have a major impact on reducing risk factors for diseases like heart disease. Health professionals can make this one habit recommendation to help patients easily reduce atherosclerosis risk.
Of course, the food choices you make at breakfast also have dramatic impact on health. Eating a daily donut is not going to limit atherosclerotic plaque formation – in fact, we now know that processed carbohydrate consumption correlates with elevated CVD risk. So it’s not only important to commit to a daily breakfast in order to limit plaque formation – you also need to choose nutrient dense, wholesome foods. A superstar heart healthy breakfast can range from 300 to 450 calories (that can depend on your physical size and weight goals). It should include a lean protein and then choices from some or all of the other food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy). A small amount of heart healthy fat (a healthy oil, nut butter or avocado) is optional but will help to fill you up.
Here are some heart-healthy superstar breakfast ideas:
- Slow cooked steel cut oats, berries, nuts and a skim latte
- Eggs (one or two) or egg whites (add skim milk to make a fluffy omelet) with sautéed vegetables, a slice of whole grain toast and mashed avocado
- A yogurt parfait with layers of Greek yogurt, whole grain unsweetened cereal, nuts and berries
- One or two whole grain waffle with nut butter and berries and a cup of skim milk
- Half a whole grain pita with hummus and vegetables and some Feta cheese
- Half a small cantaloupe, fat free cottage cheese, a teaspoon of wheat germ, nuts and cinnamon
- A whole grain or low carb tortilla with part skim mozzarella cheese, cut up vegetables, salsa and beans or bean dip, coffee with soy milk
- Whole grain English muffin sandwich with scrambled egg whites, tofu and vegetables and a ½ cup of berries
- A smoothie with fat free or 1% Greek yogurt, berries, chia seeds sprinkled with fat free whole grain granola
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”