Skipping Breakfast Associated With Hardened Arteries, Say Heart Specialists

Eating healthy food is important. And studies continue to underline the fact that starting the day with a healthy meal is even more so. Jean-Claude Winkler/Getty Images

Some of us hate breakfast. It's not that we dislike food, it's just that there's something unpalatable about the idea of waking up and immediately eating a cold soup made of milk and tiny sweetened crackers. Or worse: eggs. But breakfast is the most important meal of the day, says our collective mom. But still, we skip breakfast because it seems like an innocuous habit, and we're busy with life, and we just keep doing it and now skipping breakfast is just a Thing We Do.

But we should eat a healthy breakfast. Science knows that, and more research just backs that up.


For instance: A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology adds to our previous understanding that breakfast eaters have better cardiac health because it helps them maintain healthier body weight and cholesterol. The researchers found that skipping breakfast can be associated with an increased risk for a condition called atherosclerosis — basically the buildup of plaque in the arteries which results in their narrowing and hardening.

Seems weird, though, right? It's just one measly little meal.

But the researchers found the breakfast skippers among us are likely to have an overall unhealthy lifestyle, more often making poor general diet choices, smoking, drinking alcohol with abandon, etc. Plus, people who don't eat breakfast were more likely to be hypertensive and overweight or obese.

illustration of arteries and atherosclerosis
This illustration shows a healthy artery, and one with a buildup of atherosclerotic plaque.
Encyclopaedia Britannica/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

"People who regularly skip breakfast likely have an overall unhealthy lifestyle," said study author Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiologist, director of Mount Sinai Heart and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, in a press release. "This study provides evidence that this is one bad habit people can proactively change to reduce their risk for heart disease."

The researchers assessed the diets of 4,052 men and women who were free of heart disease or kidney disease. Through a computer survey, they assessed the participants' eating habits by asking them to estimate how much of their caloric intake was consumed in the morning. They found 2.9 percent skipped breakfast, 69.4 percent were low-energy breakfast consumers (with less than 5 percent of their day's calories being consumed in the morning) and 27.7 percent were breakfast eaters (who consumed more than 20 percent of their calories in the morning). Compared with breakfast eaters, breakfast skippers and low-energy breakfast consumers had a higher frequency of atherosclerosis. The breakfast skippers also had the greatest waist circumference, body mass index, blood pressure, blood lipid levels and fasting glucose levels.


"Aside from the direct association with cardiovascular risk factors, skipping breakfast might serve as a marker for a general unhealthy diet or lifestyle which in turn is associated with the development and progression of atherosclerosis," said study author Jose L. Peñalvo, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in the press release. "Our findings are important for health professionals and might be used as a simple message for lifestyle-based interventions and public health strategies, as well as informing dietary recommendations and guidelines."