By now, you likely know that fiber is linked to a variety of potential benefits including gut health, low cholesterol, and stable blood sugars. Same goes for protein, the macronutrient we know is responsible for building muscle, repairing tissue, and key for vital bodily functions.
So, if breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” it stands to reason that including both would be critical.
Eating fiber, says cardiologist Leonard Pianko, MD, is excellent for your digestive system, plus it helps you feel satisfied after breakfast, helps lower your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and is found in many plant-based breakfast foods packed with vitamins and minerals that are great for your heart. “Fiber can be a key factor in lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, which are two risk factors for heart disease,” Dr. Pianko says. A 2016 benchmark population-based study examined a cohort of over 1,600 adults above the age of 49, and found that those who consumed the most fiber had a nearly 80 percent greater chance of living a long and healthy life. Folks who followed fiber-rich diets were less likely than their counterparts to suffer from hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, and functional disability.
Heart-healthy forms of protein—think beans, whole grains, eggs, nuts, and fish—are equally important. “Protein in your breakfast can increase your muscle health and brain health in addition to your cardiovascular health.” Fatty forms of fish like smoked salmon are packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to living longer. Nuts, seeds, and legumes are all linked to protecting against high cholesterol because they’re high in antioxidants and phytonutrients. Eating one of these plant-based protein sources on the reg can also lower blood pressure, another checkmark on the list for cardiovascular health.
TL; DR? You can consider fiber and protein the ‘Big Two’ when it comes to heart-healthy breakfast nutrients.
How Much Of These Heart-Healthy Breakfast Nutrients We Should Consume (And The Dish A Cardiologist Recommends)
While Dr. Pianko underscores that it’s highly important to get fiber and protein at breakfast, keep in mind that you shouldn’t get all your needs met first thing in the AM. Instead, he recommends spreading out your intake of protein and fiber during the day to fuel your brain, muscles, and heart all day long. “We tend to eat our heaviest meal at dinner, which is neither good for our blood sugar nor our sleep,” agrees cardiologist Patrick Fratellone, MD. “But getting enough protein and fiber can easily be done so long as we plan out our meals, especially breakfast.”
So, how much of each of these heart-healthy breakfast nutrients do you need to maintain a healthy heart? “The optimum amount of fiber varies based on sex with men requiring more fiber than women. The amount of fiber needed also increases with age because our metabolism slows down,” says Dr. Pianko. The average adult needs between 21 and 38 grams of fiber each day, but most folks consume less than 15 grams of fiber per day. As such, Americans of all ages could stand to significantly increase their uptake of fiber, and breakfast is an excellent opportunity.
“The optimum amount of protein also depends on weight, level of activity, and overall health. However, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight, which amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.” Use this handy protein calculator to check your own protein needs.
So, what should you reach for at the breakfast table? Greek yogurt or oats are both excellent sources of protein, and adding berries will give you fiber. Dr. Pianko suggests also adding nuts (like almonds or walnuts) to the powerhouse duo to increase the protein and fiber levels further. He also recommends having a fiber-rich cereal with milk, fruit, and nuts. Lastly, he singles out scrambled eggs or an omelet with fiber-rich vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, or artichokes) and healthy fat sources such as avocado plus a piece of whole-grain bread.
Now that we’ve covered what you should eat, Dr. Pianko notes that it’s also important to make a point to avoid foods that are high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats (including donuts, sugary cereals, and packaged pastries) so as to lower your risk for heart disease.
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