Heart Health: Eat Breakfast, Frequent Meals

Eating frequent, small meals helps regulate blood sugar

cereal with berries

Whether you are running late or trying to avoid calories, skipping breakfast could be a bad way to start the day. Studies show that people who skip meals tend to be heavier, have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels and be pre-diabetic. All of these increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

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Skipping breakfast can backfire

Although skipping breakfast might seem like a clever way of lowering calories overall, that approach typically backfires when you overdo it in the evening with foods heavy in saturated fats and carbohydrates.

A study published in Circulation reports that men who skipped breakfast had almost a 30 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than men who didn’t skip breakfast. When the men ate late at night, they had a more than 50 percent higher risk of developing CHD.

Frequent meals throughout the day

After you start out the day on the right track with a high-fiber, low-fat breakfast, keep on doing the right thing by eating small meals at frequent intervals throughout the day.

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Research has shown that eating frequent small meals helps keep your cholesterol levels lower. The theory is that mini-meals might be better for metabolic stability. That means you keep your blood sugar levels even and your energy levels up.

Cleveland Clinic dietitians Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, and Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation, highly encourage people to eat breakfast in the first two hours of waking up and to ideally have a meal or small snack every three to five hours.  They also recommend avoiding meals two to three hours before bed and including protein and fiber with meals and snacks.

Tips from the experts

Here are a few tips that will help guide you to “small plate,” heart-smart eating:

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  • Start your day early with a high-fiber and/or high-protein breakfast.
  • Don’t “save up” calories for later in the day. Try to distribute calories as evenly as possible throughout the day.
  • Watch your portion size. Eating frequent meals shouldn’t increase your overall calorie count.
  • Focus on healthy fats and exclude trans fats and most saturated animal fats.
  • Eat fresh fruits, veggies and some nuts along with low-fat dairy (yogurt and cottage cheese) instead of chips or processed snack foods.
  • Drink water or iced green tea instead of sodas.
  • Stop eating at least 3 hours before you turn in for the night.

Daily diet suggestions, hour by hour

  • 7:30 a.m.: 1 cup cooked oatmeal topped with ground flaxseed and fresh blueberries (Beverage: skim milk, black coffee)
  • 10 a.m.: 6 ounces of non-fat yogurt topped with a tablespoon of walnuts (Beverage: water)
  • 12:30 p.m.: Spinach salad topped with carrots, radishes, onion, cucumber, light tuna (packed in water) and 2 Tbsp. light vinaigrette dressing; six whole-wheat crackers and an apple (Beverage: unsweetened iced tea)
  • 3 p.m.: One cup of raw vegetables dipped in ¼ cup hummus (Beverage: water)
  • 6 p.m.: Three ounces of grilled chicken breast, 2 cups steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil, a cup of brown rice and a bowl of berries for dessert
  • 8 p.m.: 3 cups of light microwave or air-popped popcorn

Planning meal preparation and making a detailed shopping list will help ensure that you always have convenient, healthy options available at all times.

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