New research underlines need for protein-rich breakfast

Aug. 21, 2013: Scrambled eggs and bacon on toast is seen at a roadside cafe.

Aug. 21, 2013: Scrambled eggs and bacon on toast is seen at a roadside cafe.  (Reuters)

There’s new evidence that dieters should join the breakfast club—especially if it includes a lot of protein.

Skipping breakfast has long been associated with excess body weight, although scientists haven’t established a causal link. Now researchers at the University of Missouri are reporting that eating a high-protein breakfast is particularly effective at reducing food cravings and boosting dopamine, a brain chemical usually associated with feelings of reward. The study was a small one, but if the findings hold up they imply that a breakfast rich in protein may aid in weight control.

To investigate the role of breakfast protein in dopamine production, the scientists recruited 16 overweight or obese female volunteers, all of them about 19 years old and regular breakfast-skippers. During every other week, participants were randomly assigned to one of three breakfast patterns: none, normal or high-protein. Both breakfasts had 350 calories, but the “normal” breakfast had 13 grams of protein, while the “high” version had 35. By comparison, a large egg has six grams.

The researchers provided breakfasts to make sure the volunteers were eating what they were supposed to. Between each week “on,” test subjects had a week to resume their normal lives.

After each participation week, the volunteers were surveyed about their food cravings and tested for dopamine markers. Heather Leidy, one of the scientists, said that, compared with the normal breakfast, “the high-protein meal led to a 34-fold reduction in cravings for high fat foods and a 15-fold increase in dopamine.” The high-protein effect was even greater compared with no breakfast.

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