Is breakfast really the most important meal?

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on July 27, 2012

healthy breakfast for weight lossMama probably said you should eat your breakfast—and if she did, she was right. Starting the day with a decent meal, especially one that’s rich in protein, is a great strategy for eating less throughout the day.

In fact, if you tend to go overboard at night, the first meal of the day can help reduce evening temptation.

In a study last year, researcher Heather Leidy of the University of Missouri compared breakfast-skipping teenagers with those who ate a morning meal with “normal quantities of protein” or one higher in protein.

The teens filled out questionnaires about their hunger levels during the day—but the researchers also conducted brain scans to check the kids’ neurological responses.

We might be skeptical of the results of the questionnaire. After all, the teens obviously knew whether they’d eaten breakfast or not, and that knowledge could have skewed their answers.

But here’s the cool part: the brain scans showed that “brain activation” in the areas that control food motivation and reward was lower among the kids who ate breakfast. In other words, they would be less inclined to desire and go looking for food.

And those who had the higher-protein breakfast had “even greater changes in appetite, satiety, and reward-driven eating behavior” than the other breakfast eaters.

Translation: Those who ate a morning meal said they were less hungry later in the day, and their brain scans told the same story. Those who ate more protein got even better results.

Protein is a dieter’s best friend

That finding isn’t a big surprise, given that protein is regarded as the macronutrient with the highest satiety value—that is, the greatest ability to make you feel full longer.

A 2012 study, also conducted by Dr. Leidy, found that young people who didn’t eat a morning meal ended up consuming 40 percent more sweets, 55 percent more soda, 45 percent fewer vegetables, and 30 percent fruit than their peers.

In this second study, those who ate a breakfast higher in protein consumed an average of 200 fewer calories during evening snacking.

So if you haven’t been taking the time to eat breakfast, get started now. Make sure you have something decent to eat–whether it’s a quick bowl of low-sugar cereal and nonfat milk, a couple of hard-boiled eggs plus whole-grain toast, or fresh fruit and nonfat Greek yogurt.

Track your energy level and calorie consumption. You may find that taking time for a good breakfast is a superior strategy for eating better all day long.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pamela Hernandez July 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Bring on the eggs! I always feel my best with a high protein breakfast. I know it helps my clients stay satisfied and alert till lunch time. If they don’t eat a good breakfast, I see bigger lunches and more late afternoon/evening snacking in their food logs.


2 Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 28, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I love eggs too . . . at the moment I’m in an oatmeal + blueberries + Greek yogurt phase, but my other go-to breakfast includes one or two whole eggs + egg whites, scrambled, with some oatmeal on the side. Oh, and lots of salsa on those scrambled eggs!


3 Suzanne
Twitter: WorkoutNirvana
July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Great summary of the studies Mary! It seems so individual… My daughter and I MUST eat breakfast right when we get up. Mine has to be about 500 calories to keep me full for several hours (Greek yogurt with blueberries and Grape Nuts). My husband, on the other hand, rarely eats breakfast and says it makes him hungry a short time later (lol!?). At any rate, it’s clear from your post that most people could benefit.


4 Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Twitter: themusclediva
July 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Thanks for commenting! It’s funny—-I recently told someone what I eat for breakfast nearly every morning, and she wondered how I could be hungry again by lunchtime. :-) That’s never been a problem!


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