A new study has found that eating breakfast, especially foods rich in protein, increases the levels of a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward, which can help reduce food cravings and overeating later in the day.
“Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast,” said Heather Leidy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri.
“However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory — or high-fat — foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day.”
For her study, Leidy studied the effects of different breakfasts on levels of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in moderating impulses and reward, including food cravings. “Dopamine levels were determined by measuring homovanillic acid (HVA), the main dopamine metabolite,” she said.
“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,” Leidy said.
“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,” she said. “We saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers.
“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.”
Participants in the study were young women with an average age of 19. However, Leidy said the findings may be generalized to a larger population of adults.
“In the U.S., people are skipping breakfast more frequently, which is associated with food cravings, overeating, and obesity,” Leidy said. “It used to be that nearly 100 percent of American adults, kids, and teens were eating breakfast, but over the last 50 years, we have seen a decrease in eating frequency and an increase in obesity.”
The study was published in the Nutrition Journal.
Source: University of Missouri