Most people have heard that eating breakfast is important for maintaining a healthy weight, but a new study from the University of Missouri is proving this old wisdom with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the brain.
The research focused on teen girls who usually skip breakfast. An estimated 60 percent of teens regularly skip breakfast, which is associated with overeating later in the day and unhealthy snacking that leads to weight gain. Researchers compared hunger in individuals who continued to skip breakfast, those who ate a 500 calorie breakfast of milk and cereal, and those who ate a 500 calorie meal of waffles, syrup and yogurt. The latter meal was highest in protein.
Researchers found that eating either type of breakfast led to less hunger throughout the day, as indicated by a questionnaire filled out by participants and by using brain scans that indicate reward-driven eating behavior right before lunch. Those who had skipped breakfast were found to have high levels of brain activity related to food reward and pleasure. Hunger was reduced the most for participants who ate the protein-rich breakfast.
“Incorporating a healthy breakfast containing protein-rich foods can be a simple strategy for people to stay satisfied longer, and therefore, be less prone to snacking,” said Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and nutrition physiology. “People reach for convenient snack foods to satisfy their hunger between meals, but these foods are almost always high in sugar and fat and add a substantial amount of calories to the diet.” She further suggests that eating protein with breakfast is an easy strategy for controlling weight gain without making more drastic dietary changes.
“I always promote including protein with every meal AND every snack,” says Cheryl Forberg, RD, Biggest Loser nutritionist. She says this is particularly important at breakfast. “Americans focus on carbs carbs carbs – cereal, juice, toast, jam, fruit, muffins, pastries.” Forberg explains that combining both protein and carbohydrates is more likely to lead to satiety, which the new University of Missouri research also supports.
Participants reported feeling they had more energy and were able to focus better when they ate breakfast. “Protein with carb also slows [the] release of blood sugar and helps maintain even blood sugar levels,” explains Forberg, which may be why those who ate a better breakfast felt they had more energy. Instead of a sugary breakfast that’s likely to lead to an energy crash later in the morning, she suggests an egg and vegetable dish like the Huevos Sofrito featured in Flavor First.
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