Apparently Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart—What Does That Mean for Intermittent Fasting?

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You know how your mom always said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” Well, she was on to something. According to this new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, skipping breakfast could be bad for your ticker. The results found that of the nearly 7,000 people it surveyed over a period of roughly 20 years, those who didn't eat breakfast had an increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

The first thing that came to our minds when reading this story: What does this mean if you adhere to an intermittent fasting-style eating plan? After all, many plans limit a person's food intake during certain times of the day or on certain days of the week, depending on the particular plan—which can often translate into skipping a morning meal.

Looking at the study with this question in mind, there’s one problem—it didn’t examine any people who were on an intermittent fasting diet. “The study says for the general population following a standard US type of diet, that those who skipped breakfast had an increased risk of dying from heart disease later in life. As this study did not examine any sort of intermittent fasters, it is tough to make a comparison between the two groups,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best selling cookbook author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.

Another thing: Although the study found an association between skipping breakfast and cardiovascular disease, it didn’t focus on the quality of the diet, which also plays a huge role in the risk of CVD, says cookbook author, registered dietitian, and certified athletic trainer Dana Angelo White, MS, RD ATC. (Meaning that the results could have been skewed by people eating diets high in saturated fats or other things that can increase one's risk of cardiovascular disease.)

"As a registered dietitian, I always recommend eating a well-balanced breakfast at the start of your day." —Toby Amidor, MS, RD

Still, White cautions that if intermittent fasters don’t eat breakfast at all, that could be a red flag in general for their health. Amidor agrees. “Breakfast should be part of any healthy eating plan, and the reason eating is spread out throughout the day is to provide your body with an opportunity to absorb the nutrients it needs." That's not always possible when intermittent fasting. For example, if someone were following the 5:2 format (when a person eats what they want for five days and then eats only 25 percent of their caloric needs for the other two), then there are two days a week they’d be forgoing a well-balanced breakfast and overall not getting enough nutrients those days, says Amidor.

“For IF on the TRF [time-restricted feeding, also known as 16:8] program, where you eat what you want for eight hours a day, this can mean that they are skipping breakfast every day," says Amidor. "Although more research would be necessary to see the impact of IF followers of this program, it could indicate that skipping breakfast (or starting your eight hours later in the day) could potentially have an impact on cardiovascular health,” she says.

Here's the thing though: Experts say that you don't have to skip breakfast while intermittent fasting. “Eating breakfast depends on the type of IF you are doing. For the 5:2 format, the five days you can have breakfast. For the two fasting days eating about 500 calories, breakfast tends to probably be skipped since there are so few calories to eat anyhow,” Amidor says. This method doesn’t specify skipping breakfast, adds White—it’s just that people may choose to not prioritize this meal when considering how few calories you can have for the whole day.

However, for the TRF plan, the whole skipping breakfast or not thing depends on when you set your desired eight-hour eating period. “If you follow the popular 16:8 method, you can have your eight-hour window of eating begin at any time, including breakfast time,” says White. You'd just then stop eating earlier in the day (like at 4 p.m., if you eat breakfast at 8 a.m.).

The bottom line: No matter what eating plan you're on, Amidor is very pro-breakfast. “As a registered dietitian, I always recommend eating a well-balanced breakfast at the start of your day as it is an opportunity to provide your body with nutrients you need at the start of the day and after you have gone many hours without any fuel,” she says.

However, if you are keen on IF and it’s working for you, you don’t need to worry too much about this study’s findings in particular. “An IF style of eating may help some people stay on track and prevent over eating—a huge barrier to weight loss. But I urge dieters to be flexible, and IF can make your diet rigid and super unenjoyable,” says White. Here’s to sitting down to that cheesy omelet bright and early!

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