You might recall our recent post about the importance of eating in sync with your body’s circadian rhythms, particularly as it pertains to weight management. (And if not, or if you missed that post, you can get up to speed here. Don’t worry; we’ll wait for you.)
But such weighty matters are hardly the only reason to heed your body’s internal clock when it comes to getting nourishment.
One of the reasons why breakfast is so important is that it comes after many hours of fasting – anywhere from 8 to 12 hours or more, depending on your typical dinner time. Your morning meal is literally about you breaking the fast. Years of research suggest that skipping it may do more harm than good – even if it does help you get on to your day earlier and faster.
One of the more recent studies, published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, took a look at how skipping breakfast might affect heart health.
Its authors analyzed data from 6550 older adults who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1988 to 1994. They surveyed breakfast habits. They tracked deaths and causes through 2011 – a span of 17 to 23 years. They adjusted for demographic and lifestyle factors. They crunched the numbers.
In the end, they found that those who always skipped breakfast had a 75% higher risk of death from any cause compared to those who ate breakfast daily. Their risk of death from heart disease and stroke was particularly higher.
Our study supports the benefits of eating breakfast in promoting cardiovascular health.
Of course, the big question is why this should be.
While skipping breakfast may well be a marker for other lifestyle factors that contribute to poor heart health – eating more processed foods, for instance, or not getting enough quality sleep or physical activity each day – there are physiological possibilities, as well.
Skipping breakfast might lead to overeating later in the day and impaired insulin sensitivity. Eating breakfast helps regulate the appetite and improves the glycemic response at the next meal, increasing insulin sensitivity. Skipping breakfast is stressful, and the longer period of fasting leads to elevated blood pressure in the morning because of a hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal triggered response.
Eating breakfast on the other hand lowers blood pressure and reduces arterial stiffness. This is why measurements of these parameters are done in a fasting state. Skipping breakfast may also trigger unwanted changes in blood lipids, in particular increased LDL cholesterol.
Whatever the reasons, data consistently shows skipping breakfast increases risk of cardiovascular disease.
Yet a lot of us do wind up skipping this meal at least once in a while. According to one recent survey, the average American “eats breakfast just three times a week, while 13% rarely, if ever, eat breakfast at all.”
Lack of time was the main reason why breakfast gets overlooked, according to another recent survey, followed by lack of appetite and the perception that making breakfast is just too much work.
But breakfast doesn’t need to be elaborate or complicated. You can find tons of fast, easy, and healthy breakfast ideas online – here and here, for example. Not great in the kitchen or just wanting to make it even easier? You could try a meal kit service such as Daily Harvest or another that includes breakfast options. Though it’s more expensive than doing it yourself, for many, the convenience makes up for it. (And no, we’re not getting paid to plug these services.)
Most important is simply making this first meal of the day habitual – something you eventually find you just can’t start the day without. You’ll find some good tips for doing so here and here and here.
Sure, it takes some time to establish a new habit – roughly two months on average, according to one notable study. But as with any behavior that supports good health, we think making the effort is worth it.
So what will you be having for breakfast tomorrow morning?