Eat Your Eggs, Not Your Wheaties

High protein breakfast increases fullness and improves diet

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A bowl of cereal and milk is a classic breakfast option for millions of Americans. So is bacon and eggs. And so is skipping breakfast altogether. Which is best?

A recent study compared skipping breakfast to eating a low-protein or a high-protein breakfast in a group of teenage girls.

Many overweight or obese individuals may think that skipping breakfast can be a good weight loss option, but this study found the opposite.

Eating a high-protein breakfast made the girls feel fuller and less likely to snack in the evening. It also improved their dietary patterns.

The study is very small, however, so more research could determine how much a high-protein diet can help with hunger and fullness.

"Eat a high-protein breakfast."

The study, led by Heather J. Leidy, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, aimed to see whether a higher protein breakfast had any effects on eating habits for overweight and obese teen girls.

The researchers designed an experiment in which 20 girls, with an average age of 19, tried three different types of morning meals.

All the girls were overweight or obese, with an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.6. BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight used to assess whether that individual is a healthy weight.

For six days, a randomly selected third of the girls skipped breakfast as they usually did. Another third had cereal-based breakfasts with 350 calories and 13 grams of protein. The last third ate high-protein breakfasts of 350 calories, with 35 grams of protein.

On the seventh day, the girls filled out appetite and fullness questionnaires to see how hungry and/or satisfied they felt. They also had their blood tested and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to see how their brains responded to food before dinnertime.

The researchers then looked at how much the girls chose to eat at dinner and afterward as evening snacks.

This experiment was conducted three times, with one full week between each run. In each run, the girls rotated through the different breakfast types so that all 20 girls had experienced a 6-day period with each of the three different breakfast options.

The researchers found that eating breakfast reduced the girls' hunger throughout the day compared to skipping breakfast. Eating breakfast also increased how full they felt each day compared to skipping breakfast.

The MRI scans also revealed lower levels of activity related to hunger in the girls' brains before dinner when the girls ate breakfast as compared to skipping breakfast.

Eating the high-protein breakfast, however, increased how full the girls felt compared to the lower protein cereal breakfast.

The high-protein breakfast also reduced the amount of ghrelin in the girls' blood compared to the amount when they skipped breakfast. Ghrelin is a hormone that influences how hungry a person feels. Eating the low-protein breakfast did not result in a lower ghrelin concentration than skipping breakfast.

The girls also snacked less in the evening when they had eaten a high-protein breakfast than they did if they skipped breakfast. However, their snacking patterns were about the same with the low-protein breakfast and skipping breakfast.

"These data suggest that the addition of breakfast, particularly one rich in protein, might be a useful strategy to improve satiety, reduce food motivation and reward and improve diet quality in overweight or obese teenage girls," the researchers wrote.

In other words, eating a high-protein breakfast appeared to help girls feel fuller and improved their diet compared to skipping breakfast or even eating a breakfast with low levels of protein. Again, the small size of the study means more research is needed to determine whether these findings would apply to others consistently.

The study was published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The research was funded by the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board and the Beef Checkoff. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 28, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013