This Could Be the Most Important Meal for Your Heart

This Could Be the Most Important Meal for Your Heart

Eating breakfast may not only help trim your waistline—it may also be healthy for your heart.

The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Public opinion has swung back and forth on that, but a growing body of evidence suggests that eating a morning meal has a protective effect on your waistline—and your heart. 

“Eating breakfast consistently may be a lifestyle change you can make to be healthier,” says Sam Aznaurov, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado. 

Start with a heart-healthy breakfast 
The American Heart Association (AHA) in January 2017 released a scientific statement on meal timing and frequency, and their effects on heart health. Among many other things, the AHA notes that people who most often skip breakfast rarely get enough vitamins and minerals, and are 75 percent more likely to be overweight or obese as people who regularly eat the meal. 

Additionally, a 2013 study of nearly 27,000 men aged 45 to 82, published in the journal Circulation, looked at meal habits, including eating breakfast. The study found a 27 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease in men who skipped breakfast compared to men who ate breakfast.   

It’s not just men whose hearts are at risk from not eating breakfast. A 2015 study of more than 56,000 women suggests that those under the age of 60 who regularly skipped breakfast were at a higher risk of heart disease than women who regularly ate breakfast. 

Heart disease risk factors 
Dr. Aznaurov notes that while eating breakfast probably has a healthy effect on the heart and can help keep weight down in the long term, it’s also likely that people who skip the meal have other unhealthy habits that contribute to poor health. 

“In the Circulation study, people who skipped breakfast are more likely to smoke, they drank about 40 percent more alcohol a day, and they were more likely to sleep too little,” Aznaurov says. They were also slightly more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and be on medication for depression—but slightly less likely to have diabetes. “The choice to skip breakfast may be associated with a more stressful lifestyle, which means more stress hormones,” says Aznaurov. 

The Circulation study also looked at the number of calories the study participants ate at each meal. “The people who skipped breakfast ate fewer calories overall, but ate about 40 percent more calories per meal,” Aznaurov points out. That may lead to bigger swings in blood sugar; you’ll eat a large meal and your blood sugar will spike, then crash. “Then you go in search of sugary foods and eat another big meal,” he says. "It’s a vicious cycle." 

Heart-healthy breakfast foods 
Aznaurov recommends simple, heart-healthy principles when choosing breakfast foods. “People should be looking at foods that will give you long-lasting energy throughout the day and prevent blood sugar spikes,” he says. “Targeting things that are high in protein and fiber will get your day started right, give you energy and help clamp down on hunger down the road so you’re not tempted to eat junk between meals.” 

Aznaurov’s go-to, heart-healthy breakfast? Plain Greek yogurt with fruit. “Avoid thinking you’re going to find the solution with one simple trick,” he says. “That’s why fad diets fail.”  

Medically reviewed in October 2018. Updated in March 2021

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