Everyone knows that breakfast should be the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately, no one seems to have time to consume a real breakfast. If they do, then it’s usually a high-carbohydrate quasi-dessert that is so portable that they can eat it in the car. Although our world is becoming time-compressed, our biological rhythms are not. While you sleep, your body is literally digesting itself to provide energy for the brain. Much of this energy comes from digesting muscle mass to make glucose as the supplies of stored carbohydrate in the liver are rapidly depleted during the night forcing the body to start digesting muscle to supply enough glucose to the brain. Rebuilding lost muscle mass demands protein replenishment upon waking, and you aren’t going to get achieve that goal by eating a typical breakfast cereal and definitely not by drinking a cup of coffee as a stimulant.
It has been known for some time there is a strong relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity and subsequent establishment of poor dietary habits (1,2). Furthermore, the higher the protein content of the breakfast, the greater the satiety. That increase in satiety is correlated with increased PYY (the satiety hormone) levels in the blood (3). It was also demonstrated more than 10 years ago that giving a higher-protein breakfast meal to overweight adolescents resulted in significant appetite suppression. This lack of hunger is correlated with dramatic changes in the levels of insulin and glucagon in the blood (4).
Now a new study pre-published electronically indicates that a high-protein breakfast also dramatically alters brain function (5). Overweight adolescents who normally skipped breakfast were either given nothing for breakfast, a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, or a protein-rich breakfast for six days. On the seventh day of each breakfast cycle, they had a fMRI scan of their brains while being shown pictures of various palatable foods on a screen. After consuming the higher-protein breakfast for six days, there was far less activation in the regions of brain associated with food motivation and reward when shown the pictures of highly desirable foods.
One surprising observation from this study is the primary reason given by the overweight adolescent subjects for skipping breakfast was not that they were trying to lose weight, but they just lacked the time or were not feeling hungry upon waking. The lack of time in the morning is understandable because adolescents don’t get enough sleep anyway. However, the lack of hunger is probably due to the rise of hormonal levels early in the morning to rouse someone out of sleep. This acts like a powerful stimulant (and if you need more, then drink coffee). But the lack of breakfast means eating more snacks with higher calories throughout the day. Bottom line, even if you aren’t hungry at breakfast, just eat it anyway. But make sure it has adequate levels of protein if you want to lose weight.
- Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O’Neil CE, Keast DR, Radcliffe JD, and Cho S.
“The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006.” J Am Diet Assoc 110: 869-878 (2010).
- Sjoberg A, Hallberg L, Hoglund D, and Hulthen L. “Meal pattern, food choice, nutrient intake and lifestyle factors in The Goteborg Adolescence Study.” Eur J Clin Nutr 57: 1569-1578 (2003).
- Leidy HJ and Racki EM. “The addition of a protein-rich breakfast and its effects on acute appetite control and food intake in ‘breakfast-skipping’ adolescents.” Int J Obes 34: 1125-1133 (2010).
- Ludwig DS, Majzoub JA, Al-Zahrani A, Dallal GE, Blanco I, and Roberts SB.
“High glycemic-index foods, overeating, and obesity.” Pediatrics 103: E26 (1999).
- Leidy HJ, Lepping RJ, Savage CR, and Harris CT. “Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher-protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens.” Obesity doi 10.1038./oby.2011.108 (2011).