Eating breakfast early is good for the heart, according to science

The time at which you eat your first and last meals of the day may be far more important than you think, according to new research coming out of Europe.


Some people make a beeline for the coffeemaker as soon as they wake up, while others set a more relaxed pace to get themselves going before swallowing the first bite of toast. While this study did not look at what people ate for breakfast, it did find that the time of day at which this first meal of the day is eaten could have an impact on cardiovascular health.

A team of researchers from France’s Inrae, Inserm and the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord as well as the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that the earlier breakfast is eaten, the more beneficial it is for cardiovascular health. The same is true of dinner, the last meal of the day, which, if eaten late, increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Data from more than 103,000 participants from the NutriNet-Santé cohort who were followed between 2009 and 2022, was used for this research. The aim was to determine a potential association between eating habits, in this case meal time, and cardiovascular disease. Published in the journal Nature Communications, this work suggests the timing of meals in relation to circadian rhythms may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, specifically coronary heart disease, hypertension, heart failure, heart valve disease, heart rhythm disorders and cerebrovascular disease such as stroke.

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Elevated risk with each hour of delay

Specifically, the findings show that eating one’s first meal late in the day is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, with an increase of about 6% per hour of delay. This may be the consequence of eating breakfast late, as well as skipping breakfast, say the study authors.

For example, eating one’s first meal at 9 am increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 6% compared with eating at 8 am, and so on.

As for the last meal of the day, eating late – in this case, after 9pm – is associated with a 28% increased risk of cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke, compared to eating before 8pm.

According to the researchers, this is particularly true for women. Another finding from the research is that the longer the duration of nocturnal fasting – ie, the time elapsed between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the following day – the lower the risk of cerebrovascular disease.

“These findings, which need to be replicated in other cohorts and through additional scientific studies with different designs, highlight a potential role for meal timing in preventing cardiovascular disease. They suggest that adopting the habit of eating earlier first and last meals with a longer period of night-time fasting could help to prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease,” the researchers outline in a press release.

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One of the leading causes of mortality around the world, cardiovascular disease is responsible for some 18 million deaths every year, according to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Heart attacks and strokes are the most frequent causes. Poor diet is one of the main behavioural risk factors for heart disease and stroke, alongside a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

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