Does your breakfast consist of a turkey sandwich? Maybe it should. Eating a substantial breakfast high in carbohydrates and protein may help people curb their appetites and cravings later in the day, allowing them to drop pounds and keep them off.
That's the conclusion of a recent study that compared small-breakfast eaters with big-breakfast eaters. Researchers assigned two different diets to 94 obese, inactive women. Both diets were low in fat and total calories, but differed in how carbs and calories were allocated.
In the low-carbohydrate, small-breakfast diet, 46 women consumed 17 grams of carbs, 51 grams of protein, 78 grams of fat and 1,085 calories a day. Breakfast was the smallest meal at 290 calories and only 7 grams of carbs and 12 grams of protein.
In the modified low-carb, big-breakfast diet, the other study subjects ate 97 grams of carbs, 93 grams of protein, 46 grams of fat and 1,240 calories a day. Breakfast was a whopping 610 calories, with 58 grams of carbs and 47 grams of protein.
Weight loss was the focus of the first half of the eight-month study, and the second half concentrated on weight maintenance. After four months, both groups had lost about the same amount of weight on average — 28 pounds for the small-breakfast group, and 23 pounds for the big-breakfast group.
But after eight months, there was a stunning difference between the two: the small-breakfast eaters had regained 18 pounds, and the big-breakfast eaters went down an additional 16.5 pounds. Women in the big-breakfast group also reported feeling less hungry and subject to fewer cravings than their small-breakfast-eating counterparts.
"Most diets are just restrictive and don't take into consideration carb cravings," says endocrinologist Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, a clinical professor of medicine at the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She was the lead author of the study, presented recently at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, being held this week in San Francisco. "If you restrict them, you end up craving them more, and then you suddenly abandon the diet."
Those cravings can be especially bad in the afternoon and evenings, when snacking on candy, cookies and other unhealthful, carb-rich foods can do a diet in. Jakubowicz says that time of day also coincides with lower serotonin levels (serotonin is a neurotransmitter concerned with mood and pain perception that's stimulated when carbs are eaten).
But eating higher levels of carbs and protein in the morning can help stave off hunger and carb cravings later, she adds. "Most obese people aren't happy eating breakfast in the morning. But when you eat a very small quantity in the morning, the brain activates the emergency system, and it perceives it will never eat again and prepares for starvation." That can trigger overindulging in fattening foods. Jakubowicz points out that the big-breakfast plan also allows for a few indulgences, such as candy and cookies -- as long as they're in the morning.
Cold pizza and a chocolate truffle, anyone?