To eat breakfast or not to eat breakfast

Years ago Bill Cosby had a comedy routine about feeding his children chocolate cake for breakfast. It was a hilarious routine and remains one of my favorites. But chocolate cake for breakfast is just for fun, right? Maybe not. A recent study from Tel Aviv University (TAU) suggests that dessert foods included with breakfast could help people lose weight.

In this study, 193 obese adults were randomly assigned to one of two diets groups, each group eating the same amount of calories. One group ate a low carb diet that included a 300 calorie breakfast, and the second group ate a diet that offered a 600 calorie, high protein and carb breakfast that included a dessert, such as chocolate.

By the end of the 32 week study, both groups had lost weight. The participants that had the higher calorie breakfast lost an average of 60 pounds more than the participants who ate the smaller breakfast. This study also monitored a hormone called ghrelin that rises before each meal and increases hunger. Ghrelin levels were lower in the group eating the high protein and carb breakfast compared to the other group. The participants eating the breakfast-with-dessert-item also reported feeling more satisfied and had fewer cravings during the day than those participants who ate the lower calorie breakfast.

The researchers concluded that a high protein and carb breakfast may prevent weight gain and counteract the body’s increased hunger and cravings when dieting. The best time to have calorie-laden sweet foods may be in the morning when our metabolism is most active.

Shall we join Bill Cosby and have chocolate cake for breakfast? Maybe. On the heels of the above findings, there is another study in the works at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). This study, led by Barbara Gower, Ph.D., in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, will also focus on the types of food consumed and the resulting affects on metabolism.

According to Dr. Gower, the body is primed to burn fat in the morning. She further states, however, that eating carbohydrates early in the day may shut off the body’s fat-burning mechanism.

Previous research with mice has shown that eating carbohydrates after waking decreases fat-burning later in the day. In this animal study, the mice that ate carbohydrates after waking weighed more at the end of the study and had elevated blood lipid levels. Mice that were fed a high-fat breakfast and low-fat dinner, however, had normal metabolic readings.

Will a high-fat, high-protein breakfast that is low in refined carbohydrates be the better breakfast for efficient fat-burning during the day when compared to other choices? Time will tell. Although breakfasts served in the TAU study contained carbohydrates, the dessert items may have had enough fat to turn allow for efficient fat-burning for the day. The experts will have to sort out the details.

These studies raise questions for me, such as:

  • What constitutes a healthy, high-fat, high-protein breakfast?
  • How many calories and fat should be consumed for breakfast to bring about efficient fat burning?
  • Can Americans slow down enough in the morning to actually eat a healthy, king-sized breakfast and then be satisfied with smaller, pauper-sized dinner?
  • What role will exercise play as a complement to this eating style?

I am not ready to eat chocolate cake for breakfast. But I do agree that breakfast is a meal not to be skipped and should contain enough healthy foods to prime the body for the day ahead. The best mix of those foods may yet be determined.

 

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