The American Heart Association recently suggested that the timing of your eating might be almost as important as what you eat. Their finding has to do with both the timing in between meals as well as what time of the day the meals are eaten. Specifically, the AHA is suggesting that breakfast eaters have a lower risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
We’ve all heard the old familiar adage before: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, a phrase that once sounded like an urban legend is starting to assert its merit scientifically according to the AHA and other associated scientific communities. When comparing breakfast eaters to those who fast until lunchtime, the results strongly suggest a healthier outcome for the breakfast eaters.
Why could this be? Well, for starters keep in mind the idea of calories in versus calories out. Weight gain and loss occurs when your daily caloric balance falls above or below the threshold for maintanance. For example, if your body requires about 2500 calories to stay the same weight, given enough days in a row of eating 2000 calories, you will end up losing weight. The opposite is also true if you eat in excess of your caloric requirement.
If we presume that breakfast eaters wake up a little bit earlier to start their day with some food, we can also presume that breakfast eaters have more opportunities throughout the day to burn those calories off through activity or exercise. Still, this nutritional habit is no guarantee of heart health, as we’ll explore more in a moment.
Eating breakfast may have another, less immediately obvious benefit. If you space out your meals so that you eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day, you may feel less temptation to binge eat during lunch and dinner (or snack unnecessarily in between). The result is a higher likelihood of eating fewer overall calories, as well as a lower chance of eating instant gratification snacks that don’t have any nutritional value.
Why does this matter in terms of heart health? Well, your weight and degree of obesity (or lack thereof) matters a great deal when it comes to your heart function. When you’re out of shape and carrying unnecessary weight, your heart has to work harder, and is more likely to become clogged and dysfunctional.
Following this chain of logic, you can see that by eating smaller portions more frequently throughout the day, your appetite never gets out of control to the point where you binge eat or consume foods devoid of nutritional value. And if that’s the case, it suggests that you’ll stay at a nice healthy weight that allows your heart to function properly, and your body to avoid other complications like Type II diabetes.
This all sounds great, right? So we should all just start eating breakfast and smaller portions throughout the day to achieve guaranteed heart health… right?
Not so fast.
Whenever you evaluate medical news (or most scientific data, for that matter), you always need to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. In other words, just because researchers see a correlation between those who eat breakfast and those who have good heart health, there is no guarantee that eating breakfast will cause good heart health.
Health outcomes are determined by a wide variety of factors, many of which are genetic and hence out of your ultimate control. However, by doing everything you can to positively affect what you do control about your health, you put yourself in the best position possible to live a happy, thriving life.