While the benefits of having a regular breakfast for daily energy levels and weight control are well known, researchers at Harvard University found that it was also crucial for good heart health.
Regularly skipping breakfast put people at high risk of a number of conditions -- such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol -- which can lead to heart disease, said the lead author of the report, Dr. Leah Cahill, from the School of Public Health at Harvard.
People who missed breakfast were more likely to be smokers, unmarried and drink more alcohol than those who eat their morning meal, the study found. However, the scientists were able to look at the impact of skipping breakfast in isolation of these other factors, which might have a negative effect on health.
“We ruled out everything except for the timing of the meal -- the actual breaking of fast,” Cahill told The Independent.
“When your body is fasting it goes into a protective drive, raising your blood pressure, raising levels of insulin and cholesterol. If you don’t breakfast in the morning you’re putting an extra strain on your body after it’s already been fasting all night,” she said.
“Over many years of doing this, you can develop insulin resistance -- which leads to diabetes -- or high cholesterol or high blood pressure, which can all lead to heart disease,” Cahill added.
The study tracked the eating habits and health outcomes of 27,000 male health professionals aged between 45 and 82, over 16 years. A parallel study looking at the impact of skipping breakfast on women is still in progress, but Cahill said it was unlikely there would be any difference between the sexes.
Late-night snacks were found to be even worse for heart health than skipping breakfast in the morning, with the small number of men who reported eating after going to bed having a 55% higher chance of heart disease.
“We think the effect with late-night eating is similar, but opposite,” said Cahill. “It is overloading your body. It doesn’t let the body digest properly. That could cause the same things, high blood pressure, weight gain, changes in blood sugar levels.”
During the study, 1,572 of the men had a first-time cardiac event. Cahill said that the benefits of a healthy breakfast were beyond doubt, given the results of her report.
“Your body is programmed to be in a fasting state and then a fed state,” she said. “If you’re not timing that well throughout the day, it can lead to all these intermediate conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn can lead to heart disease.”