What to Eat for Breakfast When Trying to Lose Weight

Eat breakfast for weight loss?

Breakfast is typically considered an essential part of a healthy diet. But what is the ideal breakfast - high protein, high complex carbs, low carb, small or large size, low sugar or something else? Two breakfast studies offer clues about whether or not we have to eat breakfast for weight loss as well as what to eat for breakfast when trying to lose weight.

Breakfast study 1

This study claims that skipping breakfast is the best path to weight loss. Overweight subjects were divided into 3 breakfast groups:

  1. Oatmeal
  2. Frosted Flakes
  3. Nothing

Results: After 4 weeks, the group that ate nothing lost slightly more weight than the other two groups. Can we conclude that skipping breakfast is better for dieters? No.

First of all, the amount of weight lost over the 4 weeks, about 2 lbs, was pretty trivial for an overweight person. If skipping breakfast resulted in an extra pound lost compared to eating oatmeal, that's not saying much. Second, comparing two high carbohydrate breakfasts to eating nothing doesn't give us much information about ideal breakfast composition. Both of the cereal breakfasts were less than 400 calories. The Frosted Flakes breakfast was high sugar, low fiber and low protein - not a great combination. So comparing a bad breakfast to no breakfast isn't very useful.

Breakfast study 2

Another breakfast study provides more useful information for dieters. In this study, overweight teens who were habitual breakfast-skippers were divided into 3 breakfast groups:

  1. High protein (35 grams)
  2. Normal protein (about 13 grams)
  3. Nothing

Results: After 12 weeks, the teens who ate the high protein breakfast had reduced daily calories intake by 400 on average, and lost body fat. Their blood glucose levels were also more stable. The teens in the other groups gained fat.

High protein breakfasts have a number of possible benefits for dieters, such as:

  • Control appetite
  • Increase satiety through the day
  • Help stabilize blood glucose

The trick is choosing foods that add up to a high protein breakfast. The teen study subjects ate 35 grams of protein, but they also ate more calories in general compared to an adult. For an adult dieter, a good target would be 20-35 grams protein, depending on age, gender and calorie level. Let's say your protein target is a relatively high 25% of a 1500 calorie/day diet plan. That's about 94 grams of protein a day. If you divide that among 3 meals, you'd be eating about 30 grams of protein at breakfast. Which means careful planning.

Typical high protein breakfast foods are eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese and breakfast meats, including bacon, ham and smoked salmon. Getting all your protein from just one food is not a great idea, and probably not appetizing. Also possibly not healthy - eating 4 eggs every day isn't advisable. Eating nothing but high sodium ham or bacon isn't advisable either. The study breakfasts included lean meat, which may be a more efficient way to boost protein.

High protein breakfast ideas

Consider these common breakfast meals and tips for improving them for weight loss.

  • 2 egg cheese omelet plus 3 slices bacon. The drawback is that this is a high fat combination, with significant sodium. Why not try 2 eggs (or 1 egg + 2 egg whites), grated parmesan or romano cheese for flavor, and stuffed with plenty of non-starchy veggies to help fill up and provide some fiber? There is plenty of protein in egg even without the addition of meat.

  • 1 cup plain Greek style yogurt, 1 TB peanut butter on toast. Drawback: the yogurt is plain, so many people add real sweetener (which adds calories and sugar). Instead, try adding some fresh or frozen berries to the yogurt to help sweeten while also increasing fiber. Or, you can try the low sugar flavored brands of Greek yogurt instead of plain (if you can tolerate non-caloric sweeteners). And try replacing the slice of toast with a stalk of celery or carrot - peanut butter is delicious on both foods.

  • 4 oz cooked lean ground beef patty. OK, you've hit the protein target, but this is pretty boring. Add some fresh fruit or vegetables like sliced tomatoes or hot peppers. Or heat up leftover vegetables and eat with the beef patty.

  • Smoothie with protein powder. You can invent your own combinations, using milk and/or yogurt as a base, adding fresh fruit and just enough protein powder of your choice. This kind of breakfast can be convenient and very filling. Just avoid adding sugar sweeteners. See this post for more ideas on how to make your smoothies more weight-loss friendly.

If you decide to try high protein breakfasts, play around with food combinations on your calorie tracker. You may decide to stick to one easy breakfast, or mix it up with 3-4 different options. Keep in mind: it's not just about protein. Barring very low carb diets, the best breakfasts will have some nutritional balance from high fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grain toast or whole grain cereal.

Originally published on 28 August 2015,
Updated: 6 November 2019

Donna P Feldman MS RDN

is author of "Feed Your Vegetarian Teen", writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast series.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Meal Planning & Diets/Breakfast

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