Can Skipping Breakfast Damage Your Heart? Possibly, Says New Study

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October 12, 2017


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You’ve probably heard this piece of nutritional wisdom many times: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A new study seems to wholeheartedly agree. Breakfast skippers are more likely to have plaque buildup that clogs arteries (atherosclerosis), potentially putting their hearts at risk, according to a new report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says.

The study involved 4,000 middle-aged men. Nearly 75 percent of breakfast-skippers showed plaque buildup, compared with 57 percent of those who had a big breakfast, and 64 percent of those who ate a light one.

Plaque that results in atherosclerosis are actually deposits of fat, calcium and other substances that can accumulate in arteries, causing them to harden and narrow. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other complications.

Other Health Factors Considered
The study’s authors emphasized that more research is needed before drawing a direct correlation between breakfast and better heart health. “If replicated in women and other ethno-cultural groups, the findings from the present study provide evidence to support a recommendation of daily breakfast eating,” researchers concluded.

Beside breakfast, many other factors are at play, including the overall health of participants studied and other unhealthy habits. For example, the breakfast skippers in the study were more likely to eat more processed meats later in the day, and more appetizers, sugary beverages and alcohol. The men were also more likely be less physically active than those who had breakfast.

Overall, the men in the study who did not eat breakfast had a 33 percent higher risk of developing coronary artery disease. That figure was adjusted to take into account some other dietary habits of the participants, including their demographics and “activity” factors (whether they exercise regularly or not).

Skipping breakfast has been linked with other unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, which could themselves significantly raise a person’s risk for atherosclerosis. Forgoing breakfast can also put you in “starvation mode” by lunch time, which can lead to unhealthy food and beverage choices, says Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida.

“A lot of people are skipping breakfast and just having a cup of coffee or a quick cereal bar and that’s not really good for you,” says Ms. Castro. “And then, hours later at lunch, they are completely starving and can’t think straight enough to make a healthy choice. That’s when you’re in a starvation mode.”

Indeed, the study’s authors suggest that not eating breakfast could generate poorer food choices later in the day — or, it could be that people who are already trying to lose weight to improve their health may be tempted to skip breakfast to do so.

But Make Sure Your Breakfast is Healthy
One crucial factor not addressed by this study is what constitutes a healthy breakfast. A trip to the doughnut shop doesn’t qualify as an acceptable breakfast. What you eat for breakfast is just as important as eating breakfast itself.

Breakfast meals that are higher in calories also can be associated with higher body mass index (BMI).

“Focus on healthy choices from food groups that include whole grains for a fiber-rich breakfast, paired with a source of protein such as an egg, egg white or spoonful of peanut butter,” says Lucette Talamas, a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. “Combining fiber-rich foods with a source of protein and healthy fats will help keep you satisfied throughout the morning.”

The problem is that most people eat breakfast in a hurry and haste can cloud good judgement, dietitians say.

Adds Ms. Talamas: “Be careful of higher-calorie foods that may include certain granola cereals, butter or excess oil used in meal preparation, processed meats like bacon and sausage and large glasses of juice.”

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