Could skipping breakfast be deadly?

Could skipping breakfast be deadly?

A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who skip breakfast are more likely to have a build-up of plaque in their arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

4,000 adults who did not have heart disease were interviewed on their breakfast meals. They were then divided into three categories: breakfast skippers, light breakfast eaters (5-20 percent of total daily calories consumed at breakfast) and heavy breakfast eaters (those who ate 20 percent or more of their total calories at breakfast).

All 4,000 participants were given ultrasounds to look for early signs of plaque build-up, called atherosclerosis.

Those who ate a light breakfast were 21 percent more likely to have plaque in their necks than those who ate the bigger breakfasts. Those who skipped breakfast were 76 percent more likely to have a build-up of plaque in their arteries. As neck arteries are responsible to deliver blood flow to the brain, having them blocked with plaque can lead to a stroke.

The researchers can’t say for sure if skipping breakfast actually causes this, or if those who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to make poor food choices later in the day. For instance, with this group, the breakfast skippers tended to eat more processed meats and high-calorie appetizers, and they tended to drink beverages with added sugar and alcohol.

According to Gina Doocy, a registered dietitian with Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, people typically skip breakfast for one of three reasons:

  • They are not hungry in the morning
  • They don’t have time
  • They want to lose weight and save the calories

However, people who skip breakfast will often end up eating more calories than those who do.

“When your blood sugar drops, you tend to grab something easy and quick, which is typically higher in fat and calories, than when planning your breakfast ahead of time,” says Doocy.

“Maintaining vascular, or artery health, is crucial to maintaining heart health, as it’s all connected,” says Dr. Alan S. Brown, a cardiologist with the Advocate Heart Institute at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“A buildup of cholesterol plaque in the heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis) can lead to a heart attack as well as a stroke.”

“While heart and vascular health is determined by a complicated combination of genetics, stress, diet and exercise, skipping fast food, packaged and processed foods, and instead eating a diet full of vegetables, fruit and healthy fats in moderation, are lifestyle choices that you can make to keep yourself healthier,” says Dr. Brown.

Try these 10 simple breakfast options if you are short on time or are concerned with calories. Dr. Brown says that for those who have been successful in their efforts to lose weight, the two most important predictors to keeping it off are exercise and eating breakfast every day.

Not sure how to eat for heart health?

Try one of these three well-regarded eating plans to learn what is healthy and what should be avoided.

Find out your risk for heart disease by taking our simple and easy Heart Risk Assessment.

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  1. Stephanie Johnson October 20, 2017 at 6:17 pm · Reply

    The research would be more complete and informative if the results assessed the influence of high carbohydrate diet on insulin levels, leptin levels, inflammation and the effects of these on cholesterol levels. See Dr. Jason Fung for accurate information and health benefits on intermittent fasting on a low carbohydrate, high fat diet. Cholesterol and arterial disease are a response to insulin, which is chronically elevated in long term high carbohydrate diets, ie the typical diet pushed by various western medical associations. As a cancer patient, consuming low carbohydrates along with adequate fat is the key to reducing inflammation from hyperinsulinemia from high carbohydrate, low fat diet. Consume carbohydrates from above ground growing vegetables along with enough fat to satiety and don’t worry about not skipping breakfast.As a cancer patient I am highly disappointed in the lack of knowledge and reporting of the effects of hyperinsulinemia by these institutions.

    I am not spam, I am a stage 3 cancer patient of Advocate

  2. Dr. Tony Hampton
    Tony Hampton, MD October 23, 2017 at 9:51 pm · Reply

    I was able to listen to the researchers comment on this study and I was not surprised to hear them give the following editorial comments: “It is our belief that atherosclerosis in the subjects that skipped breakfast is likely due to 1) eating unbalanced meals later in the day 2) having poor lifestyles like being a smoker.” In my opinion, until there is a study with fasting participants (skipping breakfast) who also control for eating a healthy diet, there is no way to know with certainty that the fasting is isolation is the issue. The lifestyle issues are likely the reason why these patients have atherosclerosis. The problem with how studies are presented to the public is that the nuances are not shared which results in misinterpretation of scientific data. Thanks, Kelly for starting an interesting conversation about breakfast.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”