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The Breakfast Routine a Leading Dietitian Swears by for Cardiovascular Health

the-breakfast-routine-a-leading-dietitian-swears-by-for-cardiovascular-health
The Breakfast Routine a Leading Dietitian Swears by for Cardiovascular Health

Dietitians will be the first to speak to the importance of eating a nourishing breakfast. In fact, many of them go as far as to say that it’s the most important meal of the day. That said, Samantha Cassetty, RD, a registered dietitian, nutrition and wellness expert, and co-author of Sugar Shock, argues that a well-balanced breakfast isn’t complete without a few heart-healthy ingredients.

Ahead the nutrition expert shares the secret recipe for a heart-healthy breakfast and a peek into her morning routine for optimal cardiovascular health. So, who’s hungry?

What’s the secret recipe for a heart-healthy breakfast?

Cassetty says assembling a heart-healthy breakfast boils down to this: a predominantly plant-based meal, where half of the plate is comprised of fruits, veggies (or a mix of the two), and the rest of the dish is divided between a portion of protein (plant-derived or animal, it’s up to you), and either a whole grain or another starch, such as sweet or regular potatoes. “Meanwhile, ‘heart-smart’ fats, like walnuts and avocados, should accessorize your meal. For instance, top whole grain toast with avocado and walnuts or mix some pumpkin seeds into your oatmeal or yogurt,” Cassetty says.


Experts In This Article

  • Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, registered dietitian and nationally-recognized food, nutrition, and wellness expert with a private nutrition counseling practice

The dietitian also explains that many typical breakfast foods are high in some mix of refined grains and added sugars. “Think bagels, muffins, croissants, and sugary breakfast cereals,” Cassetty says. “These foods can fit in a healthy diet, but for optimal heart health, it’s better to prioritize whole foods—and especially plant foods—over heavily processed ones,” she says. This means gravitating toward anti-inflammatory whole foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and beans that have fiber (for optimal gut and metabolic health), vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help counter oxidative stress1—a phenomenon that promotes heart disease—to help protect your heart in numerous ways.

On the other hand, Cassetty explains that how much you should eat of each of these foods (aka serving sizes) will depend on a number of factors. “Generally speaking, people need at least 20 grams of protein and about eight to 10 grams of fiber during breakfast, since adults need between 25 and 38 grams [of fiber], and 95 percent2 of people don’t meet this target,” Cassetty says.

5 heart-healthy breakfast foods, according to an RD

1. Walnuts

According to Cassetty, adding a handful of walnuts to your morning routine can go a long way. “Besides containing fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, walnuts are the only nut that’s an excellent source of the plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Their unique nutrient package likely contributes to their powerful heart-health benefits,” Cassetty says, and there’s tons of evidence to support this. “[Research shows that] eating five or more servings per week was associated with a 25 percent lower risk3 of dying from cardiovascular diseases and a gain in about 1.3 years of life expectancy compared to those who skipped walnuts,” she says.

Another study found that participants who consume walnuts regularly—versus those who didn’t—had better health outcomes6. “Walnut-eating young adults showed a greater likelihood for being more physically active, having a higher-quality diet, and experiencing other positive health outcomes as they aged into middle adulthood,” Cassetty says. Meanwhile, the study demonstrated that eating walnuts regularly was also linked to a better heart disease risk profile, including blood pressure and blood triglyceride levels.

A few breakfast recommendations: According to Cassetty, walnuts pair perfectly with most traditional breakfast foods making adding them into your routine a seamless transition. “Toss a handful into your oatmeal or yogurt with fruit,” she says. “You can also blend walnuts into a smoothie or use them in heart-healthy baked goods, such as a whole grain, low-sugar muffin. They’re also a great addition to granola and avocado toast.” Keep in mind a quarter cup of walnuts is the recommended daily serving. As such, Cassetty says you shouldn’t feel pressured to meet your entire quota in one meal. “You can eat them in one sitting or have some for breakfast and the rest later in the day,” she says.

2. Yogurt

In order to support heart and gut health first thing in the day, Cassetty recommends eating your daily dose of yogurt. “Fermented dairy products help load your gut with healthy bacteria that help regulate cholesterol levels. Plus, research suggests yogurt-eaters have a better cardiometabolic profile9 compared to yogurt-skippers,” she says. The key? Choosing yogurts with lower sugar. “[Some] yogurts can be loaded with added sugars that contribute to your risk for heart disease,” Cassetty says.

A few breakfast recommendations: “High-protein Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr is an ideal building block for a heart-healthy breakfast. You can use it to make a smoothie or parfait, or as a creamy, protein-rich toast topper. You can also mix a little yogurt into your eggs to make them extra creamy and a little richer in protein,” Cassetty says. She notes that a typical serving recommendation is between three-quarters of a cup to one cup. “But, you can have more or less depending on your appetite, goals, needs, and what you’re having it with,” she says.

3. Beets

Although beets may not be your conventional breakfast ingredient, Cassetty says they’re loaded with a bevy of heart-health benefits. “These root veggies stand out because they contain a precursor to nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessel walls, making them healthier and more flexible. This promotes better blood flow and lower blood pressure4. [Meanwhile], high blood pressure damages arteries, making them less flexible and raising the risk for heart disease,” Cassetty says.

A few breakfast recommendations: “You might not think of beets as a typical breakfast food but they work really well at this meal, Cassetty says. “You can blend beets into a smoothie or grate them and combine them into your recipe for chia jam. Use chopped beets with other chopped veggies, such as red peppers and sweet potatoes, to form a veggie hash that can be served alongside eggs. Diced roasted beets are also delicious on top of avocado toast, or they can be blended into a toast spread.” A typical serving is half a cup to a cup.

4. Orange juice

Aside from being a breakfast mainstay, Cassetty says OJ has a few perks for heart health. “A small amount of orange juice can add valuable nutrients to your diet,” she says. “This breakfast staple might protect your heart by lowering LDL5 and total cholesterol levels and promoting better insulin sensitivity7.”

However, Cassetty notes that you want to be mindful of how much of it you’re drinking. “Our dietary guidelines recommend no more than one cup of 100-percent fruit juice per day for kids over seven and adults,” she says. “[Keep in mind that] the recommended serving size for juice for kids under seven is less.” Once you’ve met these quotas, Cassetty suggests opting for other fruits, such as fresh or unsweetened frozen or dried fruit, to meet the remainder of your daily fruit intake goals without overdoing it on the sugar.

A few breakfast recommendations: “A small, eight-ounce glass of 100-percent OJ is considered a serving,” Cassetty says. “You can have it along with your meal or use it in meal prep, such as sweetening a smoothie—and other dishes—without added sugar.” Some dietitian-approved ideas? “Make creamsicle chia seed pudding by mixing your chia seeds with OJ and an unsweetened milk of your choice,” she suggests. “Or use OJ as the liquid in your overnight oats.”

5. Dark chocolate

You heard that right folks, dark chocolate makes the cut for a heart-healthy breakfast. “This is the health news everyone wants to hear: Dark chocolate may lower your risk of clots and also has blood pressure-lowering effects8, according to a 2024 study,” Cassetty says. And dark chocolate’s perks aren’t limited to heart health; it’s also been linked to boosting overall longevity.

A few breakfast recommendations: “There are endless ways to incorporate chocolate at breakfast. Sprinkle chocolate chips into protein pancakes, baked oats, and energy bites,” Cassetty says. “It’s also a tasty addition to yogurt parfaits. You also can stir chocolate into hot cereal and add it to granola. If you’d prefer to eat it on the side, there’s nothing wrong with that.” Keep in mind, one ounce is the recommended serving size of chocolate. And if you’re feeling extra jazzy, pair coffee and cocoa powder for a two-for-one heart-healthy breakfast addition.

A dietitian’s heart-healthy morning routine

According to Cassetty, it’s important to understand that heart health isn’t only based on what you eat. “Our heart health and overall health depend on a number of factors, including eating a nutritious, plant-filled diet, daily movement, developing appropriate ways to cope with stress, prioritizing sleep, and maintaining healthy relationships and social networks—in real life,” Cassetty says.

As such, a heart-healthy morning routine has many facets for this dietitian. “My typical morning involves at least an hour of exercise; so I wake up and drink an electrolyte drink before I go. I also have a cup of decaf [coffee] since I’m sensitive to caffeine,” Cassetty says. Keep in mind: Although the water-before-coffee topic is still up for debate, she says it’s typically fine to drink coffee before water, as long as you “tolerate it and stay hydrated throughout the day.”

Once Cassetty finishes up her drink of choice she goes on a sunlit walk to the gym. “Morning sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night,” she says. As soon as her workout is complete, it’s time to refuel. “After I’m finished working out, I eat a big breakfast containing at least 20 grams of protein. If I’m having low protein foods, like oatmeal or toast spread with nut butter or avocado, I’ll put some protein powder in my coffee. I’m very conscious about getting protein in the morning because we lose muscle over time, but a combination of eating adequate protein at each of our three meals and strength training can help counter this loss,” Cassetty says.

If Cassetty has a few extra moments to spare, she also includes meditation as part of her daily routine. “There are many days when I also add five to 10 minutes of meditation or deep breathing to my morning routine, but I practice this at night if I don’t fit it into my morning schedule. The benefits of this practice extend far beyond the time it takes,” she says.

That said, it’s important to note that everyone’s schedule is different. As such, her routine may not work for everyone. The goal? Fitting in movement and stress reduction techniques whenever possible to establish healthy habits around the schedule that best works for you, along with a heart-healthy diet.

A few reasons why you shouldn’t skip breakfast:


Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Senoner, Thomas, and Wolfgang Dichtl. “Oxidative Stress in Cardiovascular Diseases: Still a Therapeutic Target?.” Nutrients vol. 11,9 2090. 4 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11092090
  2. Quagliani, Diane, and Patricia Felt-Gunderson. “Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit.” American journal of lifestyle medicine vol. 11,1 80-85. 7 Jul. 2016, doi:10.1177/1559827615588079
  3. Liu, Xiaoran et al. “Association of Walnut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality and Life Expectancy in U.S. Adults.” Nutrients vol. 13,8 2699. 4 Aug. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13082699
  4. Benjamim, Cicero Jonas R et al. “Nitrate Derived From Beetroot Juice Lowers Blood Pressure in Patients With Arterial Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 9 823039. 15 Mar. 2022, doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.823039
  5. Amini, Mohammad Reza et al. “Orange juice intake and lipid profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Journal of nutritional science vol. 12 e37. 17 Mar. 2023, doi:10.1017/jns.2023.22
  6. Yi, So-Yun et al. “Association of nut consumption with CVD risk factors in young to middle-aged adults: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.” Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD vol. 32,10 (2022): 2321-2329. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2022.07.013
  7. Motallaei, Maryam et al. “Effects of orange juice intake on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 35,10 (2021): 5427-5439. doi:10.1002/ptr.7173
  8. Yang, Juntao et al. “Dark chocolate intake and cardiovascular diseases: a Mendelian randomization study.” Scientific reports vol. 14,1 968. 10 Jan. 2024, doi:10.1038/s41598-023-50351-6
  9. Hadjimbei, Elena et al. “Beneficial Effects of Yoghurts and Probiotic Fermented Milks and Their Functional Food Potential.” Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 11,17 2691. 3 Sep. 2022, doi:10.3390/foods11172691


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