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A team of researchers at the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri at Columbia tell us that, at least for teenage girls, eating a high-protein breakfast is the secret to eating less throughout the day.
The University of Missouri researchers recruited 20 female students aged 17 to 19 who habitually skipped breakfast. They were asked to consume a 350-calorie cereal breakfast, a 350-calorie beef and egg breakfast, or to continue skipping breakfast for 7 days. Participants in the study were asked to keep a diary of the food they ate for the week.
The next week they were brought into the research lab for a 10-hour session in which included filling out appetite and satiety questionnaires, having brain scans done while being shown pictures of food, an all-you-care-to-eat dinner meal, and blood workups to measure levels of appetite-related hormones.
The researchers found that:
Eating breakfast helped the young women in the study control their appetites better than eating nothing at all.
Eating a high-protein breakfast helped the women control their appetite better than eating a high-carbohydrate, cereal-based breakfast.
The high-protein breakfast, but not the high-carbohydrate breakfast, reduced snacking on high-fat foods compared to eating no breakfast at all.
The high-protein breakfast, but not the high-carbohydrate breakfast, reduced evening snacking compared to eating no breakfast all.
Eating a high-protein breakfast did not, however, reduce total number of calories consumed at an all-you-care-to-eat buffet.
The research team found that skipping breakfast activates several appetite centers in the brain, in the amygdala, hippocampus, and midfrontal corticolimbic system
Eating the high-protein breakfast, but not eating the high-carbohydrate cereal-based breakfast, reduced the production of the hormone ghrelin and YY neuropeptides. Ghrelin is an “I'm not full yet” signal that the digestive tract sends to the brain. Neuropeptide YY increases sensitivity to pain so that it can literally become painful not to eat.
It is possible, of course, that these results would not apply to males, children, or older adults. However, there have been many other studies to suggest that breakfast really does help just about anyone control appetite.