A 16-year study published in 2013 in Circulation examined the impact of skipping breakfast on heart-related health in 26,902 men ages 45 to 82. Physicians, dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists, and optometrists were among those represented in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a group originally examined in 1992 and then again for this study.
The authors found that men who skipped breakfast were 27 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease than men who ate a morning meal. Risk of heart disease was even worse — 55 percent — for those who ate late at night in addition to skipping breakfast. Both are considered poor eating habits.
Men with poor eating patterns also worked more, slept less, and had higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure. When researchers accounted for all the raised risk factors, two patterns persisted:
- Not eating breakfast significantly increased men’s risk of coronary artery disease.
- Eating late at night was even worse for their heart health.
Other studies show that skipping breakfast also raises rates of risk factors that increase heart disease rates, including:
- Obesityand being overweight
- High blood pressure
- Glucose intolerance and adult-onset diabetes
- High cholesterol
The most concerning thing to me is that research shows these risk factors can start to develop very early in life: when you’re skipping breakfast during childhood.
Breakfast Changes How You Burn Energy
In my clinic, my patients often tell me they’ve started to skip a meal — usually breakfast — to lose weight and improve their health. This choice is often prompted by the idea that taking in fewer calories means there will be fewer calories to be converted to fat. But is this really what happens when you skip breakfast?
In a study published in 2015 in Obesity, teenagers who routinely skipped breakfast were put on one of three eating plans: a high-protein breakfast, a normal-protein breakfast, or no breakfast. The teens who ate a high-protein breakfast lost weight; this group also reported feeling less hungry throughout the day, and they ate fewer total calories during the day when compared to those eating a normal-protein breakfast or skipping breakfast.
This study highlights the problems with skipping breakfast. Contrarily, eating breakfast actually acts as an appetite suppressant, as a small study of 12 men published in 2011 in the Journal of Nutrition shows: Participants who ate a simple breakfast had a four-fold increase in the likelihood that they would feel full and not get hungry throughout the day.
Another notion is that breakfast gets the body going; it turns out this is true. People who eat breakfast burn more energy in a phenomenon called diet-induced thermogenesis. Taking your baseline metabolism energy and dividing it by the energy content of your food is how you measure thermogenesis, which varies throughout the day. But in people who eat breakfast, thermogenesis rises in the morning and stays higher during the day. Thermogenesis is one of the key factors behind obesity.
These studies teach us that with breakfast, you have more energy and you’re more efficient at using it. If this is true, perhaps exercise performance will improve with breakfast.
A small study published in 2015 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined the exercise performance of 10 healthy men when they omitted breakfast, and later when they ate. Their 24-hour energy intake increased after eating breakfast by 14 percent, and exercise performance improved by 4.5 percent.
Finally, in a study published in 2014 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of 33 lean men and women, adding breakfast mildly increased diet-induced thermogenesis. But more importantly, it significantly increased their thermogenesis during exercise.
Breakfast Lowers Your Risk of Stroke
Stroke, which is caused by blood clots or by bleeding in the brain, shares many of the same risk factors as coronary artery disease. So if skipping breakfast raises the risk of developing coronary artery disease, perhaps it also increases risk of stroke.
In a study published January 2016 in Stroke of 82,772 Japanese men and women ages 45 to 74, researchers wanted to find out if skipping breakfast changed the risk of stroke. Study participants were divided into four groups based on how often a person ate breakfast per week: zero to two times, three to four times, five to six times, or every day. The authors’ results linked eating breakfast to profound heart-health and brain-health benefits.
Compared to those people who ate breakfast daily, here are the important results.
Those who ate breakfast zero to two times per week had:
- 23 percent increased rate of stroke
- 48 percent increase in severe brain bleeds
- 19 percent increased risk of coronary artery disease
And those who ate breakfast three to four times per week had:
- 19 percent increased rate of stroke
- 31 percent increase in severe brain bleeds
- 43 percent increased risk of coronary artery disease
The increased risk of stroke and brain bleeds in those who frequently skipped breakfast were highly significant. And the results remained significant even when the researchers accounted for diet and lifestyle choices: how much alcohol, vegetables, fish, soy, nuts, and fiber they ate, as well as whether they smoked, and how much sleep and physical activity they got.
It turns out that the age-old truth passed down to me as a child has a lot of evidence behind it: Eating a healthy breakfast is a great way to start your day.
In addition to lowering your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and stroke, breakfast can also decrease feelings of hunger throughout the day. And finally, eating breakfast will increase your energy and help you become more efficient at burning calories.
Tomorrow morning, make a healthy choice and take time to eat breakfast.