We all want to start each day on the right foot. So, munching on an a.m. meal that harms your heart probably isn’t the way to go. Unfortunately, some of the most popular breakfast plates don’t support a strong, healthy heart.
Here, Kylene Bogden, RDN, co-founder of FWDfuel, shares the breakfast foods to skip (or limit) for long-term heart health.
1. Bacon, Sausage and Ham
Breakfast meats may make your mouth water, but when you eat them consistently over time, they can also tamper with your ticker.
That’s because foods like bacon, sausage and ham are loaded with saturated fat, Bogden says. Too much saturated fat in your daily diet can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol, which raises your risk for blocked arteries and cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis.
Case in point: A July 2015 meta-analysis in Public Health Nutrition found that folks who ate more red and processed meat had higher odds of death related to heart problems (and cancer).
Plus, breakfast meats also contain “an abundance of inflammatory preservatives and chemicals that can disrupt gut health and immunity,” Bogden says.
But if you can’t live without bacon, don’t fret. You don’t have to ban breakfast meats from your plate, just enjoy them in moderation. In other words, think of bacon, sausage and ham as once-in-a-while treats versus everyday staples.
You can also opt for alternatives like plant-based breakfast “meats.” Just be smart about your selection: “While some brands are lower in saturated fat than your average breakfast meat, some companies add many chemicals and preservatives [like sodium],” Bogden says.
In this case, it would be healthier to forego the ultra-processed food and simply choose a leaner meat like turkey, she adds.
For a healthier heart, limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Between doughnuts, muffins and croissants, there’s no shortage of salivating breakfast pastries. But these baked goods are no good for your long-term heart health.
Pastries are a “triple threat combo of saturated fat, refined sugar and inflammatory chemicals/food dyes, which all cause inflammation in the body,” Bogden says.
Over time, chronic inflammation slowly damages arteries and other small blood vessels and can contribute to heart disease, she says.
3. Sugary Cereals and Granola
Some cereals and granola can serve up as much sugar as a platter of pastries.
“Added sugar, especially refined sugar, is typically the leading ingredient in these products,” Bogden says. Problem is, “sugar can be even more inflammatory than saturated fat when it comes to heart health.”
Here’s why: When you take in too much sugar, your body releases insulin, which stores the surplus in your fat cells. Over the long run, this can result in weight gain and insulin resistance, which are risk factors for even more inflammation and certain metabolic conditions, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“Years of chronic inflammation from the diet are now being linked to [cardiovascular-related illnesses such as] stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease,” Bogden says.
So, if your go-to brekkie is granola or cereal, be sure to choose varieties with fewer than 4 grams of added sugar per serving.
Even better if it supplies a solid amount of heart-healthy fiber (aim for 5 grams). A March 2015 analysis in BMC Medicine found that people who ate the most cereal fiber were 19 percent less likely to die from any cause, including heart disease.
While you expect to find lots of sugar in sweets like cookies and cakes, sneaky sugars also lurk in seemingly “healthy” breakfast foods like yogurt.
Many flavored varieties are full of added sugars, Bogden says. That’s largely because food manufacturers add ample amounts of the sweet stuff to enhance the flavor of packaged foods.
But all this unhealthy-for-your-heart sugar adds up. The average American takes in about 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily (which is almost triple the recommended 6 teaspoons or less per day), according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Not to mention, flavored yogurts also tend to serve up a large dose of food dyes, Bogden says. While artificial coloring may make your foods appear more attractive, they don’t add any nutritional value. In fact, preliminary research has found that dyes can be potentially damaging to your health.
For example, a November 2013 review in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health found that some food dyes are associated with carcinogenicity, genotoxicity and hypersensitivity in animals. While more studies are needed to corroborate these findings in humans, limiting your intake of food dyes might be a safe strategy.
That said, yogurt can be a nutritious addition to your breakfast bowl as long as you stick to plain and low-fat varieties. Plain Greek yogurt and skyr, which are low in saturated fat and high in protein, are particularly great options.
Not a fan of unflavored yogurt? Simply stir in your favorite fresh fruit.
Pancakes are a popular breakfast plate, but they don’t always promote a healthy pumper.
That’s because they’re often made with refined carbs like white flour, which have been stripped of essential nutrients. Because refined carbs lack adequate fiber, they spike your blood sugar, causing an inflammatory response, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Plus, pancake eaters tend to drown their flapjacks in high-fat butter and sugary syrup.
But if you’re craving griddle cakes, you can still enjoy them and maintain your heart health too. Here’s how: Pick a brand made with fiber-rich whole grains and without added sugars, inflammatory oils and excessive sodium, Bogden says.
Then top your pancake stack with antioxidant-abundant berries for an extra heart-healthy benefit.
While hashbrowns can be hearty and nutritious (they’re made of mostly potatoes), they’re often prepared with a plethora of non-nutritious ingredients that spell trouble for your ticker. For instance, these taters are frequently fried in inflammatory oils or butter.
Likewise, a side of these sprouts is often served oversalted. But a daily diet with excessive salt raises your risk of high blood pressure, which can contribute to chronic health conditions like heart disease, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
To make hashbrowns heart-friendly, sauté them in a spritz of heart-healthy olive oil along with other vitamin-rich veggies.
7. Bottled Teas and Coffee Products
Your morning beverage can also be a sugar bomb that sabotages a healthy heart.
Matter of fact, sweetened drinks are the primary supply of added sugars in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When it comes to bottled teas and premade coffee products, the problem of added sugar often takes the form of high-fructose corn syrup, Bogden says. “Frequent consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to heart disease,” she says.
Sipping on excessive sugar is also associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities and gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis, per the CDC.
The takeaway: Toss the bottled teas and coffees in favor of unsweetened varieties that you brew yourself. In moderation, both tea and coffee (which are abundant in antioxidants) can be beneficial for your heart.
Pining for an extra pinch of flavor? Try adding a squeeze of lemon or a dash of cinnamon.
How to Build a Heart-Healthy Breakfast
When you’re prepping your plate in the morning, Bogden recommends including these heart-protective ingredients:
- A plant-based fat containing omega 3s, which can help lower your triglyceride levels (think: canola or olive oil or unsweetened almond butter)
- At least two forms of colorful produce to increase your intake of antioxidants (think: greens in your omelet or berries in your oats)
- 15 to 25 grams of lean, high-quality protein (think: tofu, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, protein powder)