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Are you really good at controlling your diet all day long but can't stop eating from dinner to bedtime? It may not be a question of willpower but poor planning. According to one study, eating a really high protein breakfast can head off those evenings munchies.
Researchers from the University of Missouri believed a high protein breakfast could significantly improve appetite control. They tested their theory on 20 overweight or obese young women aged 18-20 who, like almost 60% of young Americans, normally skip breakfast altogether.
In the study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women either skipped breakfast, ate a normal protein (13 grams) breakfast of cereal or a high protein (35 grams) meal of eggs and lean beef. The meals all consisted of 350 calories and the same levels of fat, fiber and sugar. Participants completed questionnaires and provided blood samples throughout the day. Prior to dinner, an MRI of each woman's brain tracked brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.
Compared to no breakfast or eating cereal, eating a high-protein breakfast reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods. It also led to an increased feeling of satiety and a reduction in brain activity that controls food cravings.
The high protein breakfasts in the study included burritos or egg-based waffles with a beef sausage patty. Researchers also suggest eating plain Greek yogurt (13-18 grams per 6 ounces) or cottage cheese (30 grams in one cup).
The study was funded in part by the Beef Check-off and the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board. But a prior study by the same group and funded by the National Institutes of Health reached the same conclusion regarding hunger during the day.
In the earlier study, published online in the journal Obesity, teenagers either skipped breakfast or ate 500-calorie breakfast meals of cereal and milk (which contained normal quantities of protein - approximately 18 grams) or higher protein meals prepared as Belgium waffles, syrup and yogurt containing approximately 50 grams of protein. At the end of each week, the volunteers completed appetite and satiety questionnaires. Right before lunch, the volunteers underwent an MRI of their brain, to identify brain activation responses.
Compared to breakfast skipping, both breakfast meals led to increased fullness and reductions in hunger throughout morning. But the higher protein breakfast led to even greater changes in appetite, satiety and reward-driven eating behavior compared to the normal protein breakfast.
If you do have trouble controlling evening or between meal snacking, boosting the amount of protein you eat at breakfast is a good strategy to reduce the cravings and prevent overeating.