‘I’m a Cardiologist—This Is the Breakfast I Eat Every Morning To Support My Heart Health'

The way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day, and that includes what you eat for breakfast. It’s no secret that some foods aren’t doing you any favors in the health department, especially when it comes to your heart health.

Parade spoke to Dr. Nick West, MD, interventional cardiologist, chief medical officer, and divisional vice president of global medical affairs at Abbott’s vascular business, to find out his go-to breakfast along with other heart-healthy suggestions, as well as options to avoid. Here's what he had to say.

The Breakfast Dr. West Eats Every Morning

“As a cardiologist, I regularly incorporate fruit that is high in fiber and vitamins and low in sugar into my breakfast, including berries, apples and sometimes pineapple—often combined with low-fat yogurt and granola for added fiber content,” says Dr. West. “I sometimes treat myself to scrambled eggs with avocado on wholemeal toast and a dash of sriracha sauce—a great combination of protein, fiber and nutrients.”

Dr. West doesn't eat his avocado-and-egg breakfast every day due to its fat and cholesterol content, even though both are very healthy. "I love sriracha sauce as it contains capsaicin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties—as well as adding spice," he adds.

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Breakfast Ideas Dr. West Recommends

As a general guideline, a plant-based diet can also go a long way to cutting dietary intake of cholesterol. Here are other breakfast ideas he recommends:

Fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain little, if any, cholesterol and the added high fiber and vitamin content is not only heart-healthy, but may reduce the risk of cancer as well.

Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet, endorsed by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, recommends two to three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products rather than abstinence, given the vitamin and mineral content (including calcium) per day.

“The best medical advice at present would be to reduce sugar intake to as low as reasonably possible—it’s important to remember that some sugar is required for metabolic needs including powering muscle contractions and cellular functions—and further, that artificial sweeteners should not be regarded as a viable healthier sugar alternative until further research can be completed,” Dr. West states.

Most breakfast foods have a decent amount of sugar in them, unfortunately, and sugar consumption is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease including coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and cerebrovascular disease (stroke).

Although artificial sweeteners were developed as a healthier, lower calorie alternative to sugar, they appear to carry significant risks themselves in the development of the same conditions that are associated with high sugar intake, Dr. West adds.

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Breakfast Foods He Avoids

Here are the foods Dr. West steers clear of:

Red meat and processed meats

In general, foods with a high saturated fat content carry larger amounts of cholesterol, including red meats and processed meats, full-fat dairy products, and eggs. Methods of food preparation and cooking may also be important, as coconut or palm oils used to fry foods are also high in cholesterol.

Full-fat dairy foods

Full-fat dairy foods are a slightly trickier area. Often foods, including cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, etc. are grouped together. Yet, the risks of these different foods may vary.

High-cholesterol foods

Some high-cholesterol foods are unhealthy for other reasons, such as the high salt content in processed meats such as sausage meat, bacon, sliced meats and fast food, and the carbohydrate/sugar content of desserts, all additive to the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How To Think About Morning Beverages

“While drinks alone cannot be truly classified as a treatment on their own, they are a very useful adjunct to prescribed antihypertensive/blood pressure-lowering medications and should be considered part of a patient’s holistic management for high blood pressure,” says Dr. West.

Adding these drinks into our daily routine and normal diet clearly can bring important health benefits, even for those without significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For those with established high blood pressure/hypertension or established vascular disease, they should be viewed as important adjuncts to, rather than replacements of, guideline-directed, evidence-based preventative medications, Dr. West explained.

Here are several drinks he recommends:

Tea and coffee

Both drinks have blood pressure-lowering effects, although tea’s benefits are more clear-cut. "Both black and green tea lowered blood pressure in a recent meta-analysis of all available trial data, but green tea was more efficacious," he says.

Coffee is more controversial, as acute effects of coffee and caffeine intake include a rise in blood pressure. "However, moderate coffee consumption over a longer period of time seems to exert both cardiovascular risk and blood pressure-lowering effects based on all available clinical data," Dr. West says.

One note of caution is the subjective nature of the amount of coffee consumed. "The recommendation should be for habitual and moderate coffee consumption (two to five cups per day) to maximize cardiovascular benefits.

Beet juice

Rich in nitrates, raw beet juice lowers blood pressure as well as contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Its efficacy is backed up by a randomized clinical trial showing improvements in blood pressure as well as indices of systemic inflammation.

Pomegranate juice

This juice contains antioxidants and is rich in vitamins, especially vitamin C. There is also clinical data that support its effects on lowering blood pressure.

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