Eating a protein-rich breakfast can help a person control his or her appetite and reduce the desire to snack on unhealthy sugary or fatty foods later on in the day, according to new research published in the April edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
According to Heather Leidy, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and author of the study, as many as 60 percent of young Americans consistently skip breakfast which can have a tremendous impact on their appetites throughout the day (and especially during the evening hours).
As part of her research, Leidy recruited 20 overweight or obese young females between the ages of 18 and 20, each of whom either ate a high-protein breakfast of eggs and lean beef, a regular breakfast consisting of ready-to-eat cereal, or skipped breakfast entirely.
Each breakfast consisted of 350 calories and was equal in dietary fat, fiber, sugar and energy density – the protein level was the only difference, with the high-protein breakfasts containing 35 grams. All of the study participants provided blood samples and completed questionnaires throughout the day.
In addition, just before dinner, they were given a brain scan using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This allowed Leidy and her colleagues to track the brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.
They discovered that eating a high-protein breakfast resulted in increased levels of fullness and reduced activity in the brain areas responsible for controlling food-related cravings. In addition, the researchers found that the eggs-and-meat-breakfast reduced the likelihood that a person would snack on high-fat or high-sugar food later in the day in comparison to those who did not consume breakfast or ate only the cereal.
“Eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks,” Leidy said in a statement. “These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high quality breakfast foods.”
Those who typically skip breakfast should get used to doing so in about three days, should they choose to begin eating an early-morning meal, the professor explained. In addition, she said that anyone who would prefer not to eat eggs or lean beef could turn to alternatives such as plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or ground pork loin in order to help reach the 35 grams of protein threshold.