Middle-aged adults who regularly eat a hearty breakfast may be less likely to have clogged arteries than those who routinely skip breakfast, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
For the study, the researchers assessed the dietary journals of 4,052 study participants ages 40 to 54 who did not have a history of heart problems.
The researchers then used an ultrasound to screen participants for subclinical atherosclerosis, the early buildup of plaque in the arteries. If untreated, atherosclerosis can cause arteries to harden and narrow, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and other health conditions, CBS News reports.
According to the researchers, the study accounted for differences in diet and other heart health risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes. However, it did not factor in whether participants who skipped breakfast did so as a way to lose weight or manage other heart health risk factors that could contribute to atherosclerosis.
The researchers found that of the participants:
- 3 percent said they regularly skipped breakfast;
- 69 percent said they typically had a light breakfast, which the researchers defined as a meal that accounted for 5 to 20 percent of participants' total calories for the day; and
- 28 percent said they typically had a hearty breakfast, which the researchers defined as a meal that accounted for more than 20 percent of participants' calories for the day.
According to the researchers, nearly 75 percent of participants who skipped breakfast presented with subclinical atherosclerosis, compared with 64 percent of those who ate a light breakfast and 57 percent of people who ate a big breakfast.
Further, the researchers found that when compared with those who ate a large breakfast, participants who ate a light breakfast were 21 percent more likely to have damage in a major neck artery and 17 percent more likely to have damage in a major abdominal blood vessel.
Jose Penalvo, a senior researcher on the study from Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, cautioned that this study doesn't prove that skipping breakfast directly harms your arteries. However, he hypothesized that people who skip breakfast might be at risk for a "cluster" of unhealthy habits, such as frequently eating out and selecting less healthy foods.
In addition, Penalvo said skipping breakfast may negatively affect hormones that regulate appetite and blood sugar, and multiple previous studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to have diabetes or heart disease.
Separately, Prakash Deedwania, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study, said that the research "proved the age old concept that breakfast is the most important meal of the day"(Norton, CBS News, 10/2; Rapaport, Reuters, 10/2).
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