Start every day the heart-smart way

By David Schroeder, M.D., cardiologist, Providence Heart Clinic-Milwaukie, Willamette Falls, Gateway and Gresham

Do you routinely bypass breakfast in the morning? Your heart might like you to reconsider.

A large-scale study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease than those who ate breakfast.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the Harvard study analyzed the eating habits of 16,902 men older than 16 years, and the numbers were clear: Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is associated with fewer heart attacks.

Lest you think that the research applies only to men, other studies have reached similar conclusions about the heart benefits of breakfast for both genders. One study of women, for example, found that skipping breakfast raised artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and impaired insulin sensitivity, both of which can increase heart risks.

Of course, no one would suggest that breakfast alone will make or break your heart health. The breakfast-eaters in the Harvard study also exercised more and smoked less than those who skipped breakfast. Those findings paint a picture not of a single meal, but of an overall lifestyle that optimizes heart health. Indeed, decades of research has shown that the keys to minimizing heart risks are to avoid smoking, to stay physically active, to get plenty of sleep, to keep stress under control and to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet. What the Harvard study says to me is that we should think of breakfast as a healthy part of that plan.

All research aside, eating breakfast just makes heart-smart sense to me. It's a great way to start each day with a healthy step in the right direction. If you wake up to a big bowl of oatmeal – my personal favorite – and top it with some nuts and fresh berries or banana slices, you're laying a healthy foundation for your whole day. You've got whole, minimally processed grains from the oats (especially the slower-cooking varieties), a good healthy protein from the nuts, a fiber-rich and nutrient-packed fruit or two, and a full belly to help you resist the donuts at work. There's a lot to recommend there.

If you prefer more savory foods for breakfast, the general consensus today is that one egg per day is perfectly healthy for most people. Certainly, an egg scrambled with a handful of fresh greens or tomatoes is a much better choice than a sugary muffin or Danish.

So if breakfast has never really been your thing, give it a try. Anyone can whip up a bowl of oatmeal, a scrambled egg, a fruit smoothie or a piece of peanut butter toast (whole-grain, of course) in just five or 10 minutes. For more creative ideas, try these recipes from the Providence Heart-Healthy Living Guide:

Dig in, and see how starting the morning with a tasty, healthy breakfast can make your whole day better – and your heart, too.

For more recipes, pick up or request a copy of the 2014 Northwest Guide to Heart-Healthy Living.