Hearty breakfasts for a healthy heart

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There’s already a long list of reasons we should start the day with a healthy breakfast. From increasing our mental performance through the day to lowering our risk of diabetes, the benefits of eating breakfast are many and varied. And recent world-first research has gone a step further by using ultrasound imaging to look at the development of atherosclerosis in groups with different breakfast habits.

Atherosclerosis—a narrowing and hardening of the arteries—is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, which is the major killer of Australians, taking one life every 12 minutes. It is the slow development of fatty deposits on artery walls, building up over time, with the first symptom too often being the last: heart attack or stroke.

In this latest study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers screened 4000 middle-aged participants for what’s called subclinical atherosclerosis. This is plaque that’s contributing to narrowing arteries, increasing risk, but not yet causing any symptoms.

Participants fell into three groups: those who regularly skipped breakfast, those who ate a low calorie breakfast and those who ate a more substantial breakfast that made up more than 20 per cent of their daily energy intake. What they found was that those who skipped breakfast had the highest rates of plaque, while those who ate the substantial breakfast had the lowest.

The researchers are quick to point out that the study doesn’t prove breakfast itself acts against the formation of plaques, but that it’s one of a cluster of behaviours that appear to work together to reduce the risk of heart disease.

So start your morning with a substantial, nutritious breakfast to help set yourself up for a day of healthy choices your arteries will thank you for.

How were the breakfast eaters healthier?

Better daily diets. The study participants who ate a big breakfast also had the highest average daily fruit, vegetable and dietary fibre intakes and the lowest red meat and daily energy intakes.

Better biometrics. Participants who ate a big breakfast had the lowest average weight, BMI, waist circumference, triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol—the type that collects on artery walls.

Better health. The group who ate the biggest breakfasts had the lowest rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, and the smallest percentage of people with two or more cardiovascular disease risk factors.

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