Breakfast Is Good For Your Heart
Cardiovascular diseases—which include heart disease and stroke—are the number one killers of both men and women in the US. There are many risk factors for heart disease. Two major factors that are affected by our lifestyles are excess weight and diabetes .
In a study, researchers found that among 2,831 study volunteers, those who ate breakfast were significantly less likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not eat breakfast.
Here’s how the factors relate: having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease. Being overweight increases the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Certain lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise and healthful eating, can reduce the risk of all three—overweight, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. When these findings are put together, they point to breakfast as an essential component to a heart-healthy lifestyle.
How Breakfast Benefits the Heart
The exact effects of breakfast are not clear. One theory is that starting the day with a meal prevents a build-up of hunger and subsequent overeating later in the day, overeating that can lead to weight gain.
Another important theory relates to insulin resistance syndrome (also called metabolic syndrome and syndrome X). This syndrome is a combination of risk factors—overweight and obesity , high blood pressure , high fasting levels of blood sugar or the hormone insulin, high levels of triglycerides , and low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL). Excess body fat prevents insulin from working properly, therefore making the body insulin resistant. Insulin resistance syndrome can trigger the onset of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In the study, breakfast eaters were 35%-50% less likely to develop insulin resistance syndrome than breakfast skippers.
The good news is that insulin resistance syndrome and some cases of type 2 diabetes can be reversed or prevented through weight loss. Losing weight helps your body’s cells to be more responsive to insulin, and makes it easier to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Eat More To Weigh Less?
Since weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than you expend, skipping breakfast will lead to weight loss—right? Wrong. Just ask the 3,000+ members of the National Weight Control Registry. This is a registry of people who have lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least one year.
A study published in the February 2002 issue of Obesity Research reported that 78% of registry members eat breakfast everyday of the week, while only 4% never eat breakfast. Researchers believe that the breakfast habit is a key factor in these members’ weight control success.
Looking at it from the other side, researchers from the University of Massachusetts found a link between skipping breakfast and an increased prevalence of obesity. This finding, published in the July 2003 American Journal of Epidemiology, was based on surveys of the weight status and eating patterns of 499 study volunteers.
Healthful Breakfast Options
Now that you’re convinced of the importance of breakfast, what should you eat? Try to include some of each nutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), and at least one serving of fruit or vegetables. Some options:
- One regular-sized bagel (think old-style Lenders, not bagel shop) topped with peanut butter and banana slices or dried fruit
- One cup low-fat yogurt with fruit and ½ cup granola
- Two slices whole-grain bread with cottage cheese and a glass of orange juice
- One cup cold cereal topped with fruit and soymilk or milk (1% or skim)
- Choose cereals that are high in fiber (5 grams or more per serving), or “good” sources (2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving); good choices include Shredded Wheat, Wheat Chex, All Bran, Bran 100%, Complete Bran Flakes, Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, and Fruit & Fiber
- Two scrambled eggs with mushrooms (or other veggies) and 1 tablespoon of lite cheese wrapped in a warm tortilla
- Three whole-grain pancakes or waffles topped with lite syrup and fruit (go easy on the butter or margarine)
- Homemade breakfast shake—one cup milk or soymilk (skim or 1%), one scoop frozen yogurt, ½ cup pineapple juice, banana, and strawberry chunks (any combo of fruit will do)
- One regular-sized bagel with lite cream cheese and smoked salmon
- Breakfast bar with juice or milk (skim or 1%); choose a breakfast bar with 4 grams of fat or less, 3 grams of protein or more, and several vitamins and minerals
- Oatmeal with raisins or dried cranberries; or with applesauce and cinnamon
- ½ whole-wheat pita stuffed with a sliced hard-boiled egg, lettuce and tomato, with a piece of fruit
American Diabetes Association
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Dietitians of Canada
American Dietetic Association. Hot cereal: a cool breakfast on a cold morning. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/ . Accessed December 17, 2003.
American Dietetic Association. Trying to lose weight? Maybe you should have eaten breakfast. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/ . Accessed December 17, 2003.
American Heart Association. Eating breakfast may reduce risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/ . Accessed December 3, 2003.
American Heart Association. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2003 update. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association; 2002. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org/ . Accessed December 12, 2003.
Harvard Medical School. On the road to breakfast. Available at: http://www.intelihealth.com/ . Accessed December 17, 2003.
Ma Y, Bertone ER, Stanek EJ 3rd, et al. Association between eating patterns and obesity in a free-living US adult population. Am J Epidemiol . 2003;158:85–92.
Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter. A bagel or a donut? Available at: http://healthletter.tufts.edu/ . Accessed December 12, 2003.
Wyatt HR, Grunwald GK, Mosca CL, Klem ML, Wing RR, Hill JO. Long-term weight loss and breakfast in subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. Obes Res . 2002;10:78–82.
Last reviewed June 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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