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8 Heart Healthy Breakfast Foods to Start Your Day (and 8 More to Avoid)
Starting your daily routine with a heart healthy breakfast is the perfect way to kickstart your morning and set the tone for the day. And if your cholesterol test came back a little high or you just want to take preventative measures to keep your levels in check, plenty of low cholesterol breakfast options are inexpensive, nutritious, and require little to no preparation. And as you’re likely aware, there are many more that, while undeniably tempting at times, are best left alone.
Heart Healthy Breakfast Options
While you’ll find no shortage of tasty breakfast recipes by way of a simple Google search, the truth is that you don’t need to be a gourmet chef or spend your entire morning in the kitchen in order to eat healthily. Below are some quick and easy breakfast staples to get you started.
Oatmeal is perhaps the best breakfast food option if you’re monitoring your cholesterol or watching your heart health.1 Oatmeal contains a soluble fiber (which keeps us regular) and insoluble fiber, which has been proven to lower cholesterol levels. In addition, consuming fiber helps you to feel fuller faster, so you can resist the temptation to overindulge or snack throughout the day. Studies show that eating just one and a half cups of oatmeal daily can lower your cholesterol by as much as 5 to 8 percent.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and have been proven to lower LDL cholesterol levels.2 In addition, avocados are high in fiber and contain plant-based sterols which also help lower cholesterol. Avocado toast, apart from being a rather trendy dish, can be a great way to start your morning. Simply mash up some fresh avocado, spread it on whole grain toast, and add a little sea salt or olive oil for a quick, easy, and healthy breakfast staple. If you should be allergic to avocados, hummus is a great alternative!
Almonds (or Almond Milk)
Enjoy a glass of almond milk, add a few whole almonds to your oatmeal, or just keep a bag in the cup holder of your car for a quick on-the-go snack. Almonds contain monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins which can all help you lower cholesterol levels and encourage heart health.2 One study revealed that consuming just two ounces of almonds per day can lower blood pressure and LDL by as much as five percent.2 In addition, almond milk is a tasty substitute for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant.
Orange juice has been proven to promote heart health by lowering bad cholesterol levels and raising good cholesterol. Rich in antioxidants and nutrients, orange juice can assist in decreasing diastolic blood pressure.2 The only downside is that some popular orange juice brands are high in calories and sweetened with sugar which can lead to weight gain. When possible, opt for freshly squeezed or 100% juice options. Some people will even opt to dilute sugary orange juice with water to reduce the number of calories and sugar per serving. In case you’re allergic to orange juice, pomegranate juice has been found to have heart healthy properties as well!
Low Fat Bran Muffins
We’re not talking about the pre-packaged items you’ll find at the gas station or in a vending machine. Those can be packed with sugar and preservatives. However, if made at home with the right ingredients, a bran muffin can be a tasty source of fiber, vitamin B, and iron.2 A quick Google search will reveal plenty of delicious, simple and heart healthy recipes and tips you can try.
Apart from being chocked full of nutrients, flax seeds have been proven to lower cholesterol levels. Flax seeds are high in fiber and are a fantastic heart-healthy addition to plenty of breakfast items including smoothies, yogurt, or baked goods. In addition, the high concentration of soluble and insoluble fiber help improve digestive health and assist in regulating blood sugar. All in all, flax seeds are a great “superfood” to have on hand.2
While blueberry-specific studies regarding cholesterol are sparse, there’s no denying that blueberries contain several key nutrients and chemicals which can lead to lower cholesterol and better heart health. Great in oatmeal, yogurt, or just by the handful, blueberries are full of anthocyanin which can lower the oxidation of LDL (it also gives blueberries their deep blue color). In addition, pterostilbene helps to reduce the amount of lipids in the blood which can help to lower cholesterol. However, if berry allergies run in your family, it may be best to get tested before diving into the blueberry bowl.
There’s a lot to be said as far as whether eggs are healthy and to what degree. But if you’re very conscious of your heart health, you can’t go wrong in scrapping the yolk and enjoying a simple egg white omelette. There’s no shortage of egg white recipes available with a simple Google search. Egg whites contain no cholesterol and are widely accepted as a healthier alternative to consuming the entire egg.3
Breakfast Foods to Avoid
Probably not a lot of surprises in this next section. While these foods may be tempting, those concerned about cholesterol and heart health should try their best to keep these foods at bay. A number of common breakfast foods and ingredients are substantially high in fat and sugar. For instance…
Yes, there’s still some confusion around whether eggs are good or bad for people concerned about their cholesterol. The truth is that while egg yolks do contain cholesterol, it is the saturated fatty acids that actually affect one’s blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.3 Some people are even allergic to eggs! However, when eaten in moderation and without unhealthy add-ons like cheese, salt, or oil, eggs are okay. But if you choose to err on the side of caution, you may opt for an egg substitute.
While fast food companies have made a somewhat decent effort at rolling out healthier breakfast alternatives, you’ll want to pay close attention to the nutritional facts associated with the items you select. For instance, a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin contains 300 calories, 12 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 260 mg of cholesterol, and 820 mg of sodium. A McDonald’s Deluxe Breakfast contains 1,140 calories, 59 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 575 mg of cholesterol, and 2,250 mg of sodium. Healthy options are still few and far between, but it is possible to still hit up your favorite drive-through window in the morning.
Bacon typically goes through a complex curing process before it makes its way to your grocery store shelves. The curing process helps to preserve the meat as well as give it its distinctive color and taste. It is during this process that salt, nitrates, and even sugar are added making the final product a far cry from what we might call heart healthy. While bacon is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, the silver lining is that a typical serving size is relatively small. Still, if you can manage it, it’s best to avoid bacon in the morning and opt for a more heart healthy breakfast option.
Red meats have substantially higher amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats as compared to other meats. These saturated (bad) fats can substantially raise your cholesterol and put you at greater risk of heart disease. Consider vegetable proteins (beans for example), chicken, or fish as healthy substitutes. Just make sure that your fish or poultry is baked or cooked in an otherwise healthy manner (i.e. avoid frying). Salmon in particular is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are great for those monitoring and managing their cholesterol.
We’re not suggesting ruling out cheese altogether. After all, cheese can be a great source of calcium and the percentage of cholesterol and saturated fat can differ greatly depending on the cheese type. Pay close attention to the saturated fat amounts in the cheese you eat and try to minimize this figure as best as possible. For example, a cup of cheddar or swiss cheese contain between 24 and 25 grams of saturated fat whereas mozzarella is substantially lower at just 15.6 grams. Non-fat cheese contains zero grams of saturated fat and only 5 mg of cholesterol and will certainly be your best bet if you don’t choose to give up cheese entirely.
Butter or Margarine
If you have to have one over the other, margarine is going to be your best bet here for heart healthy food preparation. Margarine is made from vegetable oils and contains more unsaturated or “good” fats, and butter is produced from animal fat and contains higher levels of saturated fat. However, you’ll want to pay special attention to the trans fat amounts in the margarine you select (stick margarine generally contains higher values than tub margarine, but you’ll want to check to be sure). If you do your research, you should be able to find margarine that contains no trans fat whatsoever, which will obviously be your best option.
It likely doesn’t come as a huge surprise to see donuts on this list. While there’s some gray area surrounding some of these foods, you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor or nutritionist willing to put you on a strict donut regimen. Donuts are essentially a deep-fried combination of sugar and refined flour topped with icing or sugary glaze. Cut them out of your diet if possible, and if you MUST indulge every now and then, be strict about keeping your portions small and under control.
Commercial Baked Goods
Not only do these items typically include ingredients like refined flour, sugar, and butter, but they come in giant bags or containers which can make portion control a battle of willpower. If the convenience of the grab-and-go technique is alluring you, consider making your own baked goods at home (with healthy ingredients) and individually wrapping them. This way, you’re in control of what goes into your body and you won’t be tempted to go overboard with portions.
The best way to understand your cholesterol levels and risks for heart disease is to take a cholesterol test and discuss the results with your doctor. Priority Health Testing offers a number of affordable, appropriate, and convenient testing options for this very purpose. Simply select the test(s) you need, visit one of our 4,000+ testing locations, and get your results in as little as one business day. And if you ever have questions about our processes or your individual results, our care counselors are standing by to assist.
Maintaining a heart-healthy and low cholesterol lifestyle does not require culinary prowess or a subscription to the Food Network. With a little research and smart shopping, you can start the day off on the right foot with heart healthy breakfast options and, in time (and with other proper health-conscious lifestyle choices) you can get your cholesterol under control.
“Quick, Easy Breakfast Ideas.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, March 20, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/food-and-nutrition/art-20048294.
“Can Eating Certain Foods Help Improve Your Cholesterol Levels?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, July 17, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192.
“Are Eggs Good for You or Not?” www.heart.org. American Heart Association. Accessed October 19, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/08/15/are-eggs-good-for-you-or-not.