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Can Paleo-Style Breakfasts Curb Food Cravings?
Morning meals rich in protein yield brain-based rewards that may aid weight control 10/23/2014 By Craig Weatherby
Most kids hear it from their mothers … “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.
That idea came into question after two small, short-term clinical trials were published last August.
In both trials – one conducted in obese people, the other in thin people – people were assigned to either eat breakfast or nothing in the morning.
The results showed no significant differences between the groups in terms of body weight, metabolic rate, cholesterol profile, or most measures of blood sugar.
Perhaps because of their lack of stored fat, the trial conducted in thin people found that those assigned to skip breakfast felt more sluggish all morning, compared with those who ate.
But as the authors acknowledged, past research suggests that the makeup of your breakfast probably matters to its health and mental effects.
Fortunately for lovers of morning lox or smoked fishsausage, bacon, or eggs, the results of most prior studies suggest that higher-protein breakfasts produced better outcomes for blood sugar and satiety (the feeling of fullness), versus higher-carb meals.
Does eating breakfast curb weight gain?
About half of Americans – including adolescents – skip breakfast, which may or may not raise their risk of overeating and weight gain.
Up to the 1970's, almost all American adults, kids and teens ate breakfast, but today only half of have the habit. 
That change overlaps with a four-fold rise in the number of obese people here since the late 1980's.
While this association doesn't prove a connection, it suggests that breakfast-skipping may promote weight gain.
It seems odd that skipping breakfast would cause weight gain, since that should mean fewer calories consumed daily.
But past clinical trials show that people assigned to skip breakfast ended up eating as many daily calories as the participants assigned to eat breakfast.
And new research proves that eating a high-protein breakfast yields feelings of reward and satisfaction … which may reduce food cravings and overeating later in the day.
Heather Leidy, PhD, a prominent researcher in the field, said this her recent evidence review: “Emerging scientific evidence suggests that a diet rich in high-quality protein is a beneficial dietary strategy to prevent and/or treat obesity.” (Leidy H 1024)
This kind of evidence has helped drive the shift to Paleo-style diets, high in protein and low in digestible carbs such as sugars and flour.
Breakfast boosts brain chemical that curbs food intake and cravings
The new study was led by Heather Leidy, who's an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri.
Leidy's team studied the effects of different breakfasts – either high or low in protein – on participants' levels of dopamine (Hoertel HA et al. 2014).
Dopamine is a brain chemical involved in regulating impulses and feelings of reward, including food cravings, related to appetite.
Eating initiates a release of dopamine, which in turn produces feelings of reward and satisfaction.
Leidy noted that the reward response provided by release of dopamine is known to help regulate food intake … along with the influence of insulin and neurochemicals like leptin and ghrelin.
The participants in the study were young, overweight or obese women (average age of 19) who typically skipped breakfast but were not any particular diet … however, Leidy said the findings likely apply to all adults.
As she said, “Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast.”
“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.” (UM 2014)
This was a randomized, crossover trial in which 16 girls alternated between three morning routines, with each routine lasting six days:
  • No breakfast
  • Low-Protein 350-calorie breakfast: 15% protein (13 grams / a half ounce), 65% carbs, and 20% fat
  • High Protein 350-calorie breakfast: 40% protein (35 grams / 1¼ ounces), mostly from egg and beef), 40% carbs, and 20% fat
In addition to providing equal fat content, both breakfast meals were similar in fiber and sugar content, palatability, and appeal.
Each six-day period was followed by food-craving questionnaires and blood sampling for dopamine levels throughout the morning.
The results showed three things:
  • Both breakfast meals reduced post-meal cravings for sweet and savory foods and increased dopamine levels, while the no-breakfast routine yielded no changes in cravings or dopamine levels.
  • High-protein breakfasts tended to yield the greatest drops in post-meal savory cravings and sustained increases in dopamine levels prior to lunch.
  • The participants' post-breakfast (or no breakfast) dopamine levels followed the protein content of their breakfast: eating more protein meant release of more dopamine.
“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; we saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers,” Leidy said.
“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.” (UM 2014)
The take-way is simple: Eat Paleo style breakfasts when you can, and favor the healthiest possible protein sources: fatty wild seafood and leaner organic meats and poultry.
Fortunately, nothing could taste finer than salmon bacon, salmon sausage, or smoked fish in the morning!
  • Deshmukh-Taskar PR, Nicklas TA, O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Radcliffe JD, Cho S. The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):869-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.023.
  • Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson J, Alcorn A, Larsen LH, Thomas EA, Cardel M, Bourland AC, Astrup A, St-Onge MP, Hill JO, Apovian CM, Shikany JM, Allison DB. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jun 4;100(2):507-513. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Hoertel HA, Will MJ, Leidy HJ. A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese "breakfast skipping", late-adolescent girls. Nutr J. 2014 Aug 6;13:80. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-80.
  • Leidy HJ. Increased dietary protein as a dietary strategy to prevent and/or treat obesity. Mo Med. 2014 Jan-Feb;111(1):54-8. Review.
  • Ortinau LC, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Leidy HJ. Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutr J. 2014 Sep 29;13:97. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-97.
  • Song WO, Chun OK, Obayashi S, Cho S, Chung CE. Is consumption of breakfast associated with body mass index in US adults? J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Sep;105(9):1373-82.
  • University of Missouri (UM). Eating breakfast increases brain chemical involved in regulating food intake and cravings. October 15, 2014. Accessed at