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Kick food cravings with a protein-rich breakfast

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

High-protein breakfast beats cravings

You already know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day to jumpstart your metabolism and boost your energy. Now there’s even more reason to rev your metabolism with a morning meal – your waistline. University of Missouri researchers have found that eating a protein-rich breakfast improves appetite control and reduces overeating later in the day. Here’s how a high-protein breakfast can help you kick food cravings.

High protein breakfast

Breakfast affects body and brain

It's no secret that food cravings can bring out the worst snack choices later in the day. But how to feel satisfied and avoid the lure of the vending machine? A new study, published online in the journal Obesity in May 2011, demonstrates that eating a protein-rich breakfast increases satiety and reduces hunger throughout the day. Researchers at the University of Missouri also used brain scans on study participants that showed this ideal breakfast reduces the brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behaviour.

Breakfast strategy for snack control

"Everyone knows that eating breakfast is important, but many people still don't make it a priority," says Heather Leidy, study lead author and assistant professor in the University of Missouri's department of nutrition and exercise physiology. "This research provides additional evidence that breakfast is a valuable strategy to control appetite and regulate food intake."

Food motivation and reward

For the study, researchers assessed hunger and satiety by measuring appetite sensations and hormonal markers in combination with psychological reward-driven motivation to eat, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain activation in areas related to food motivation and reward. Given that an estimated 60 percent of adolescents skip breakfast on a daily basis, the study groups comprised teens who didn't eat breakfast.

For three weeks, one group of teens continued to skip breakfast while the other consumed 500-calorie breakfast meals of cereal with milk – which contained normal quantities of protein – or higher-protein meals, such as waffles made with protein powder, syrup and yogurt. Right before lunch, the volunteers in both groups completed a brain scan using fMRI to identify brain activation responses. At the end of each week, the volunteers completed appetite and satiety questionnaires.

Add in more protein at breakfast for satiety

The findings? Compared to skipping breakfast, both breakfast meals led to increased fullness and reductions in hunger throughout morning. The fMRI results showed that brain activation in regions controlling food motivation and reward was reduced before lunch time when breakfast was consumed in the morning. The higher-protein breakfast led to even greater changes in appetite, satiety and reward-driven eating behavior compared to the normal protein breakfast.

"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," Leidy says. "These findings suggest that a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control and prevent overeating in young people."

Funding for the research was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

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