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More on the Do or Don’t Breakfast Debate

  • Eating

My October 20 blog, Do You Need to Eat Breakfast?, gave one (surprising) evidence-based answer to this question about our morning meal: eating breakfast is not essential for good health. Now come more studies saying, not so fast, that breakfast is, after all, an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Rather than get angry or frustrated that there is no “right” answer, appreciate the beauty of science testing hypotheses and coming to new conclusions due to new evidence. Let your critical thinking skills (my new book, Outsmarting Overeating, due out January 13, has an entire chapter devoted to improving critical thinking skills as a way to eat “normally”) analyze what you read and come to your own conclusion—which may be that the jury is still out on the question.

Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at Missouri University, reports that “’research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day.” (“Eating breakfast increases brain chemical involved in regulating food intake and cravings, MU researchers find: breakfast-skippers have lower dopamine levels, which can lead to overeating and eventual weight gain” by Sarah Clinton, 10/15/14, University of Missouri News Bureau). Worth knowing, huh?

Leidy studied the effects that various breakfast foods have on dopamine levels which help modulate impulses and reward, including food cravings. According to her, “‘Eating initiates a release of dopamine, which stimulates feelings of food reward. The reward response is an important part of eating because it helps to regulate food intake.’” Of interest, she goes on to say that “‘Dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese, which means that it takes much more stimulation—or food—to elicit feelings of reward. To counteract the tendencies to overeat and to prevent weight gain that occurs as a result of overeating, we tried to identify dietary behaviors that provide these feelings of reward while reducing cravings for high-fat foods. Eating breakfast, particularly a breakfast high in protein, seems to do that.’”

Based on this study, if you weigh more than you’d like to, consider eating a breakfast which is high in protein and observe how you do with food the rest of the day. What you eat, it seems, is as important as whether you eat (breakfast, that is). Start out your day with fats and sweets and you might not fare so well food-wise. Start it with protein and you likely will see a better outcome. Experiment and see what works for you.