Skipping Breakfast may Increase Risk of Heart Attack or Death

The American Heart Association released the results of a study conducted by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass. that might have you thinking twice about skipping breakfast. 

Eating a balanced breakfast has long been touted for its benefits for those trying to reach or maintain a healthy body weight. Now researchers are giving us another reason to "break the fast" each morning:

Men who reported they skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those who didn't.

Here is the American Heart Association's news release of the Harvard study, followed by our tips to have an easy and quick breakfast each morning. 

Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk

July 22, 2013 

Study Highlights:


  • A large 16-year study finds men who reported that they skipped breakfast had higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease.
  • The timing of meals, whether it’s missing a meal in the morning or eating a meal very late at night, may cause adverse metabolic effects that lead to coronary heart disease.
  • Even after accounting for modest differences in diet, physical activity, smoking and other lifestyle factors, the association between skipping breakfast (or eating very late at night) and coronary heart disease persisted.

DALLAS, July 22, 2013 — Here’s more evidence why breakfast may be the most important meal of the day:

Men who reported that they regularly skipped breakfast had a higher risk of a heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease in a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Researchers analyzed food frequency questionnaire data and tracked health outcomes for 16 years (1992-2008) on 26,902 male health professionals ages 45-82. They found:

• Men who reported they skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those who reported they didn’t.

• The men who reported not eating breakfast were younger than those who did, and were more likely to be smokers, employed full time, unmarried, less physically active and drank more alcohol.

• Men who reported eating late at night (eating after going to bed) had a 55 percent higher coronary heart disease risk than those who didn’t. But researchers were less convinced this was a major public health concern because few men in the study reported this behavior.

During the study, 1,572 of the men had first-time cardiac events.

Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time

,” said Leah E. Cahill, Ph.D., study lead author and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass.

“Our study group has spent decades studying the health effects of diet quality and composition, and now this new data also suggests overall dietary habits can be important to lower risk of coronary heart disease,” said Eric Rimm, Sc.D., senior author and Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

Men who reported eating breakfast ate on average one more time per day than those who skipped breakfast, implying that those who abstained from breakfast were not eating additional make-up meals later in the day. Although there was some overlap between those who skipped breakfast and those who ate late at night, 76 percent of late-night eaters also ate breakfast, researchers said.

The study collected comprehensive questionnaire data from the participants and accounted for many important factors such as TV watching, physical activity, sleep, diet quality, alcohol intake, medical history, BMI, and social factors like whether or not the men worked full-time, were married, saw their doctor regularly for physical exams, or smoked currently or in the past.

While the current study group was composed of men who were of 97 percent white European descent, the results should also apply to women and other ethnic groups, but this should be tested in additional studies, researchers said.

“Don’t skip breakfast,” Cahill said. “Eating breakfast is associated with a decreased risk of heart attacks. Incorporating many types of healthy foods into your breakfast is an easy way to ensure your meal provides adequate energy and a healthy balance of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding nuts and chopped fruit to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal in the morning is a great way to start the day.”

Other co-authors are Stephanie Chiuve, Sc.D.; Rania Mekary, Ph.D.; Majken Jensen, Ph.D.; Alan Flint, M.D., Dr.Ph.; and Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D. The authors had no relevant disclosures.

The National Institutes of Health and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to Dr. Cahill funded the study.

Easy Ways to Enjoy a Quick and Healthy Breakfast 

1. Drink It 

Many people say they don't eat breakfast because they "just aren't hungry first thing in the morning". If this sounds like you, try drinking your breakfast. Whip up a superfood smoothie, or veggie juice, and grab it to go as you head out the door to start your day.

A smoothie can offer you the nutritional support your body needs to start your day. Try adding a scoop of protein powder to a handful of berries (or a superfood berry powder!), a banana, and milk or water in the blender. Vegan protein powders and nut milks are great options for those wanting even more health benefits from their smoothie. 

Juicers are a one-time investment that offer continual health benefits. Throw some fruits and veggies into your juicer to make a nutritious meal full of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs. Don't have a juicer? Try a juice powder! Mix multiple juice powders together to make your own custom creations.

2. Cereal

Cereal is a quick and easy way to start your day. But not all cereals are created equal. Your local grocery store shelves might be overflowing with boxes of cereal with bright, fun cartoon characters on the outside, but these provide very little nutritional value on the inside. Worse, they may contain artificial ingredients, chemicals, and GMOs. Try a raw, vegan cereal made with superfood ingredients like acai berries, sprouted grains, and far less sugar than the store-bought brands. (We love Lydia's Organics and Living Intentions brand cereals!)

3. Fruit and Nuts 

Fruit and nuts can provide protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats in one yummy meal- everything you need to wake up your metabolism and get energy flowing to your body so you can tackle the day. Try different combinations, like organic fall apples plus yummy walnuts, or summer berries with raw pecans. Nuts can be a calorie dense food, so a small handful will go a long way. This is a great idea for those who don't like the idea of a heavy breakfast in the morning.

4. Eat Leftovers

Some people don't eat breakfast because of time restraints in the morning. Others don't like traditional "breakfast" foods like cereals, oatmeals, or eggs. If you are willing to think outside the box, chances are you have a nutritionally sound meal in your fridge in the form of last night's leftovers. Grab a protein, a carbohydrate, and a good fat - enjoy cold from the fridge or reheat on your way out the door. Either way, you are fueling up for the day.

5. Rethink Oatmeal

If your only memory of oatmeal is a mushy porridge with no flavor, rest assured - you can easily make a delicious batch of oatmeal in the morning that is nothing like the oatmeal you got as a kid. Try adding dried fruits, like blueberries or goji berries, chopped nuts, and vanilla or cinnamon to up the flavor. Sweeten with maple syrup, yacon syrup, or Stevia to keep this bowl of goodness good for your waist line, too. 

Eating breakfast will rev up your metabolism, which naturally slows down as you sleep at night. It is a great way to eat beneficial fruits, sprouted grains, vegetable juices, or other foods you may normally not eat the rest of the day. It can give you an energy boost, make you feel more alert, and help you focus at work. And, most importantly, we now know it can help reduce our chances of having a heart attack.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. 

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