What did you eat for breakfast today? Pancakes and sausage? A granola bar? Eggs? If your answer is “none of the above,” you may want to rethink that, according to a new study published in the journal Circulation. In a story on NPR, it was reported that the study found “men who routinely skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease compared to men who ate breakfast.” The story continues:
Now a lot of folks may be wondering: Is there something truly beneficial about the timing of breakfast? Or is it just the case that people who eat a morning meal also tend to have a lot of other good habits, such as exercising more and smoking less, compared to those who skip?
[Study author Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health] and his colleagues took pains to account for the fact that the breakfast eaters in their study were different. Still, the findings held.
“It was somewhat surprising to us that even after we statistically accounted for differences in diet, smoking patterns and exercise patterns … you still see an elevated risk of heart attack [among the non-breakfast eaters],” Rimm says.
According to NPR, this study is just the latest in a series of studies showing the benefits of breakfast which go back to the 1960s and the famous Alameda County study. According to Public Health Reports, the Alameda County study looked at the connection between lifestyle and longevity. It found that seven habits, including eating breakfast daily, led to a longer and healthier life for study participants. The “Alameda 7” as these habits are known, also include:
- Not smoking
- Limiting the amount of alcohol drunk in one sitting
- Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night
- Avoiding snacks
- Maintaining a healthy weight for one’s height
- Exercising regularly
It’s apparent that many of these habits are connected. For instance, avoiding snacks can help maintain a healthy weight. Quitting smoking can make aerobic exercise easier. And, the authors of the Circulation study posit, eating breakfast can help individuals sleep better:
[Fellow study author Leah Cahill] says when you prolong fasting by skipping breakfast you can put a strain on the body. “And over many years … it can lead to insulin sensitivity, which can lead to [type-2] diabetes, [and] it can lead to high blood pressure,” she says, which over time can lead to heart disease.
In other words, she’s making the case that the timing of meals really does seem to matter.
“We really saw that breakfast itself was important,” concludes Cahill. Whether it’s skipping breakfast in the morning or eating very late at night, this pattern of eating may lead to adverse metabolic effects that set the stage for heart disease.
Researchers who study circadian rhythms say these findings make sense, given that the act of eating plays a critical role in resetting our internal clocks.
“For a very long time we thought that light is the cue that resets the brain clock,” says Satchin Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. “But slowly we are learning that actually it’s food that’s the biggest cue to reset the clock.”
Maintaining circadian rhythms allow the body to get the proper amount of sleep, as we discussed in the article “The Night Shift” in the Fall 2012 issue of CALA News & Views. So, the next time you find yourself rushing out of the house in the morning, take a moment to grab a piece of toast or fruit. Over time, it may become one of your habits, lowering your risk of heart disease and leading to a long and healthy life.