Eating breakfast may do more than give kids an academic edge in the classroom. A new study suggests that eating the morning meal – one that’s high in protein – can help overweight teens lose body fat, reduce hunger and eat fewer calories during the day.
We’ve known for years that people who are regular breakfast eaters tend to have a healthy body weight. But very few studies have tested whether eating breakfast actually improves weight control in people who regularly skip it, or if the type of breakfast consumed makes a difference.
That’s why researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia decided to find out whether eating breakfast every day for three months would improve weight management in overweight but otherwise healthy teenagers who skipped the meal six to seven days a week. For the study, published online this month in the journal Obesity, 57 teens ate either a 350-calorie normal-protein (13 g) breakfast, a 350-calorie high-protein (35 g) breakfast or they continued to skip breakfast.
The normal-protein breakfast consisted of cereal and milk while the high-protein breakfast included eggs, milk and lean pork in addition to grains.
After 12 weeks, the group of teens who ate a 35-gram high-protein breakfast voluntarily cut their daily food intake by 400 calories while the groups who ate a normal-protein breakfast or continued to skip the meal ended up eating more each day, an extra 120 and 370 calories, respectively.
The high-protein breakfast eaters also reported a reduced hunger level whereas those in the other groups did not.
Teens who continued to skip breakfast put on 3.5 pounds of body fat over the course of the study while those who ate the high-protein breakfast lost about one pound of fat. Body fat remained unchanged for the cereal and milk eaters.
These findings suggest that, at the very least, eating a high-protein breakfast can help prevent further weight gain among breakfast-skipping teens by putting the brakes on hunger and overeating.
While this is the first study to test the effect of eating breakfast on weight and changes in body composition in teenagers, findings from studies conducted in adults strongly suggest that eating the right breakfast, in the context of a calorie-reduced diet, can speed weight loss.
The “right” breakfast, according to some researchers, is a big one providing 600 calories to 700 calories along with plenty of protein and carbohydrate. A 2013 study published in Obesity revealed that among women given a 1,400-calorie diet, those who ate 700 of those calories at breakfast – versus 200 – experienced a 2.5-fold greater weight loss (19 versus 8 pounds over 12 weeks).
In 2008, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond found that women who followed a 1,200-calorie “big breakfast” (610 calories) diet lost an average of 39.5 pounds at the eight-month mark compared with women eating an 1,100-calorie very-low carbohydrate diet who lost 28 pounds initially but regained 18, leaving them with an average loss of just 10 pounds.
Weight control aside, there are other important reasons your child should eat breakfast each morning (and you, too, of course). Scores of studies have demonstrated that kids who eat breakfast have better memory, score higher on tests, are absent from school fewer days, report better moods and have more energy than children who skip the meal.
Carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods – e.g., cereal, toast, fruit, milk, yogurt – supply the brain with glucose, a sugar that fuels brain cells and is used to make a brain chemical called acetylcholine that’s involved in memory.
It’s relatively easy for kids to eat a bowl of cereal with milk, grab an apple and granola bar to eat on the run or eat toast with peanut butter in the car on the way to school. Eating a 35-gram protein breakfast, on the other hand, takes a little more planning and organization. The key is having a variety of high-protein foods on hand, such as Greek yogurt, milk, cheese, unsweetened soy beverages, eggs, lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds.
To save time on hectic weekday mornings, get into the habit of “Sunday food prep.” Make a week’s worth of hard-boiled eggs and grill extra chicken breasts or salmon for quick breakfast sandwiches or burritos. Make mini frittatas (in muffin pans) and freeze. Scrambled eggs and egg burritos freeze well, too.
Add foods such as cheese strings (or individual-portion packs of cheese), cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, kefir, almonds, hemp hearts and nuts, even smoked salmon to your weekly grocery-shopping list. Doing so will ensure you can add at least two high-protein foods to your family’s morning meal.
Breakfast ideas that pack a protein punch
The following five breakfast ideas deliver 32 grams to 40 grams of high-quality protein to keep you and your teenager alert, energized and feeling satisfied throughout the morning.
Breakfast Greek yogurt parfait: Layer 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt (24 g protein) + 1/2 cup of granola + berries + 2 tbsp. hemp hearts (6.5 g). Serve with a hard-boiled egg on the side (6.5 g).
Breakfast chicken tacos: Fill two 7-inch whole-wheat tortillas with 2 ounces of leftover chicken (18 g) + 2 ounces of grated cheese (14 g) + salsa. Serve with 1 cup of milk (8 g).
On-the-go protein- and probiotic-powered fruit shake: Blend 1 cup of plain kefir (11 g) + 2/3 cup cottage cheese (21 g) + 1 tbsp. hemp hearts (3 g) + 1 cup of mixed frozen fruit (berries/mango/banana).
Breakfast “dessert” waffles: Top a whole-grain toaster waffle with 1/3 cup of part-skim ricotta (19 g for two waffles) + 1/2 cup of sliced strawberries + 1 tbsp. chopped walnuts (5 g for two). Serve with one cup of milk or unsweetened soy beverage (8 g).
Omega-3 breakfast sandwich: Fill a whole-grain English muffin with 3 ounces of smoked or leftover baked/grilled salmon (16 g). Serve with a smoothie made with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt (12 g) + 1/2 cup of milk or unsweetened soy beverage (4 g) + 1/2 cup of frozen berries + 1/2 banana.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.Report Typo/Error