You’ve probably heard it a million times: Don’t skip breakfast. You need it to kick-start your brain in the morning and fuel you through the day.
It’s true. There are ample studies providing evidence that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school and maintain a healthier weight. In fact, children who eat breakfast are generally in better health overall. Adults benefit from eating breakfast as well, for the same reasons it helps kids.
Now the American Heart Association says eating early in the day – breaking the nighttime fast –is also good for the heart. In a 27-page scientific statement an advisory committee with the AHA made up of physicians and nutrition researchers concluded that the times we eat throughout the day can have serious implications for our health.
Body clocks tune your health
In the statement, the researchers explain that your body has a system of internal “clocks” that regulate metabolism. One of them is the “central” clock in your head. It’s dictated by light and dark, and it controls your sleep-wake cycles and body temperature. This is also known as your circadian rhythm.
The other clocks are associated with tissues and organs other than the brain. These “peripheral” clocks are affected by the timing and type of food consumption. That means when, what and how you eat and the length of time between meals can alter the rhythm of the peripheral clocks. In turn, this affects how your body processes blood sugar and cholesterol, your blood pressure, and how your immune system and digestive system function.
Eating irregularly and “on-the-go,” as well as skipping early meals can have an adverse effect on metabolic function, putting you at risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. And all of these conditions contribute to heart disease.
Studies show breakfast helps your heart
In another study published in the AHA journal Circulation, researchers studied the eating habits of nearly 27,000 men ages 45 to 82 over a year, then followed them over a 16-year period. They found that the men who didn’t eat breakfast were 27 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who did. Also, the men who didn’t eat breakfast were generally hungrier later in the day and ate more food at night. This might have led to metabolic changes, which can contribute to heart disease.
“Even after accounting for diet, physical activity, smoking and other lifestyle factors, the association between skipping breakfast and heart disease persisted,” the researchers said.
The AHA advisory group recommends “intentional eating,” paying attention to the timing of meals and snacks, and to the quantity and quality of the food you eat. Here are five more suggestions by the AHA group:
- Eat earlier in the day and less later in the day, distributing calorie consumption over fewer hours of the day.
- Give your body an ample overnight “fast.” That’s when important metabolic work is done.
- Plan your meals and snacks to minimize hunger and maintain portion control.
- Reduce your consumption of high-calorie beverages
- Eat more slowly as a way to decrease calories and feel full sooner.
Thanks to our experts in Clinical Nutrition Services at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland Ore., for reviewing this article.
If you have questions about your diet and when to eat, ask a registered dietitian. If you’re concerned about the health of your heart, talk to your provider.