image for breakfast articleHeart disease and stroke—are major killers of both men and women in the United States. There are many risk factors for heart disease. Two important risk factors are excess weight and diabetes.

In a study, researchers found that among 2,831 study volunteers, those who ate breakfast were significantly less likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not eat breakfast.

Here’s how the factors relate: having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease. Being overweight increases the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Certain lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise and healthful eating, can reduce the risk of all three—overweight, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. When these findings are put together, they point to breakfast as an essential component to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

How Breakfast Benefits the Heart

The exact effects of breakfast are not clear. One theory is that starting the day with a meal prevents a build-up of hunger and subsequent overeating later in the day, overeating that can lead to weight gain.

Another important theory relates to metabolic syndrome and insuin resistance. This syndrome is a combination of risk factors—large waist circumference, high blood pressure, high fasting levels of blood sugar, high levels of triglycerides, and low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL). Excess body fat prevents insulin from working properly, therefore making the body insulin resistant. Metabolic syndrome can trigger the onset of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The good news is that insulin resistance syndrome and some cases of type 2 diabetes can be reversed or prevented through weight loss. Losing weight helps your body’s cells to be more responsive to insulin, and makes it easier to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Healthful Breakfast Options

So what should you eat for breakfast? Try to include some of each nutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), and at least one serving of fruit or vegetables. Some options:

  • One cup low-fat yogurt with fruit and ½ cup granola
  • Two slices whole-grain bread with cottage cheese and a glass of orange juice
  • One cup cold cereal topped with fruit and soymilk or milk (1% or skim)
  • Choose cereals that are high in fiber (5 grams or more per serving), or “good” sources (2.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving); good choices include Shredded Wheat, Wheat Chex, All Bran, Bran 100%, Complete Bran Flakes, Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, and Fruit & Fiber
  • Two scrambled eggs with mushrooms (or other veggies) and 1 tablespoon of lite cheese wrapped in a warm tortilla
  • Three whole-grain pancakes or waffles topped with lite syrup and fruit (go easy on the butter or margarine)
  • Homemade breakfast shake—one cup milk or soymilk (skim or 1%), one scoop frozen yogurt, ½ cup pineapple juice, banana, and strawberry chunks (any combo of fruit will do)
  • Breakfast bar with juice or milk (skim or 1%); choose a breakfast bar with 4 grams of fat or less, 3 grams of protein or more, and several vitamins and minerals
  • Oatmeal with raisins or dried cranberries; or with applesauce and cinnamon
  • ½ whole-wheat pita stuffed with a sliced hard-boiled egg, lettuce and tomato, with a piece of fruit