28 August 2015 Breakfast Studies with Advice for Dieters

Is there a diet out there that tells you to skip breakfast? I don’t think so. Breakfast is typically considered an essential part of a healthy diet. But what is the ideal breakfast? High protein? High complex carb? Large? Small? Low sugar?

One recent 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, one also high sugar, 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.

Another recent 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 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 would eat 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. Consider these examples:

  1. 2 egg cheese omelet plus 3 slices bacon. The drawback is that this is a high fat combination, with significant sodium. Adding sides like toast or juice will add calories.
  2. 1 cup plain Greek style yogurt, 1 TB peanut butter on toast. Drawback: the yogurt is plain, so adding sugar sweetener will add calories. Better to add some fresh fruit, resulting in a breakfast that’s lower calories and sodium and higher fiber than the egg omelet meal.
  3. 4 oz cooked ground beef patty. OK, you’ve hit the protein target, but this is pretty boring. Add some fresh fruit or fresh vegetable condiments like sliced tomato or chili pepper.
  4. 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.
  5. 6 buttermilk pancakes with syrup. Well, you’d get your 30 grams of protein, but at a cost of 1200-1300 calories and over 150 grams of carbohydrates. Not a great plan.

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. The best breakfasts will have some nutritional balance from high fiber foods like fresh vegetables or fruit, or whole grain toast or cereal.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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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.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Breakfast

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