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. This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
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. 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. Research has found that skipping breakfast is associated with heart problems A 2019 study published in the The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that people who eat breakfast even once per week are less likely to have cardiovascular disease. Skipping breakfast is associated with cardiac risk factors like obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. It’s also linked to other behaviors that can lead to heart disease, such as smoking, eating too many calories and too much sugar, and not exercising enough. And even when researchers controlled for these factors, in a 2019 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, skipping breakfast – on its own – was associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. “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. Still, Bao says the results were consistent with previous studies, which have linked skipping breakfast to coronary heart disease and increased risk for stroke. “This finding is not surprising because previous studies found that skipping breakfast was related to hypertension, diabetes, and other cardiovascular risk factors,” Bao says. 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 un