The Surprising Dangers of Skipping Breakfast

You may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—and new science reveals that it can actually be lifesaving, particularly for men.

Men who regularly skip breakfast are at 27 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or fatal coronary disease, compared to those who eat a morning meal daily, according to a new study of male health professionals published in Circulation. The researchers tracked 26,902 initially healthy men, ages 45 to 82, over a 16-year period.

"Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time," said Leah E. Cahill, Ph.D., study lead author and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in a statement.

Female Breakfast Skippers Also at Risk

A new, very large study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women who skipped breakfast even once a week were 20 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate a meal every morning.

The study looked at data from more than 45,000 women who were initially free of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, and assessed their eating patterns over a six-year period. Those who chose to forego breakfast but ate frequently (four or more times a day) had a greater risk of developing diabetes, while a lower body mass index (BMI) seemed to mitigate some of the danger associated with irregular breakfast consumption. Translation: skipping breakfast isn’t a smart idea for anyone, but seems to be even more harmful for those who are overweight.

Link to Diabetes and Insulin Resistance

Another recent large scale study, which also used data from the over 29,000 participants in the male health professionals study, reveals a similar effect on men. Researchers noted that men who skipped breakfast had a 21 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, hypothesizing that breakfast may play a role in stabilizing blood sugar levels throughout the day.    

In fact, a new but much smaller study showed that eating breakfast reduces overall diabetes risk for overweight women. Insulin levels were higher after missing breakfast, and researchers believe that missing that meal may lead to insulin resistance, the root cause of type 2 diabetes.

10 Tips to Energize Your Breakfast

Skipping Breakfast Also Linked to Mood, Memory, and Metabolic Syndrome

The risk of diabetes isn’t the only thing that’s changed based on whether or not someone eats breakfast. Forgoing the most important meal of the day can have negative effects on your mood, memory and energy levels, at least until you get a bite to eat during lunchtime. And the bad habit of skipping breakfast is also linked to weight gain, particularly around the midsection, as well as high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a dangerous cluster of metabolic abnormalities that double risk for heart attack and quintuple it for diabetes, as I’ve explained in a recent post. If you have three or more of these conditions, you may have metabolic syndrome:

  • a large waistline (35 inches or more for a woman, 40 inches or more fro a man) or an “apple” shape
  • high triglycerides (150 mg/dL or higher)
  • high blood pressure (130/85 mmHg or higher, or you’re on medication for high blood pressure)
  • high fasting blood sugar (100 mg/dL or higher, or you’re on medication for high blood sugar)
  • low “good cholesterol” or HDL (lower than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women).

What is metabolic syndrome?

The Best Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes

Diabetes is an epidemic affecting 25.8 million Americans, 7 million of whom are undiagnosed. In addition, more than 79 million people have prediabetes. Complications can include heart disease and stroke—in fact, the risk for stroke and heart disease is at least doubled for people with diabetes, and could be four times as high. Other possible complications include kidney disease, severe vision loss, and damage to the nervous system (sometimes leading to amputation).

How do you reduce your risk for diabetes, other than making sure you eat breakfast every single day? The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends some simple tips.

  • If you are overweight, losing as little as 7 percent of your body weight (15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) can trim risk by 58 percent, even if you are already prediabetic.
  • Eat a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains.
  • Keep your cholesterol in check by controlling your weight, and eating monounsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocado oil.  
  • Cut down on sugary soft drinks, candy, cookies and potato chips.
  • Both aerobic activity and resistance training (such as exercising with weights) improves insulin activity, so make sure to get adequate exercise—30 minutes a day most days of the week will help with insulin sensitivity. 
  • The ADA recommends screening every three years if you’re 45 or older, at an earlier age if you have such risk factors such as obesity, or a family history of diabetes. The ADA deems the 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test “the gold standard” for accurate diabetes detection. Screening is crucial because the disease often has no warning signs in the early stages, while it is still potentially reversible.

Superfoods That Prevent or Control Type 2 Diabetes

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