A study of teenagers by the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology has found that eating a healthy breakfast, especially one rich in protein, reduces hunger during the day and increases satiety. The researchers also found that a protein-loaded breakfast reduces the brain signals that control food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.
The team studied teenagers because skipping breakfast has been strongly linked to weight gain and obesity in this age group and with unhealthy snacking especially at night and because approximately 60% of them skip breakfast on a daily basis.
The research team assessed physiological hunger and satiety by measuring perceived appetite sensations and hormonal markers in combination with psychological reward-driven motivation to eat, using fMRI to identify activity in regions of the brain specifically related to food motivation and reward.
For three weeks, the teens either continued to skip breakfast or ate breakfasts with normal or high levels of protein. At the end of each week, the teens answered surveys about their feelings of hunger and satiety. In addition, immediately before lunch, their brains were scanned to identify brain activity responses.
The results were clear: compared to skipping breakfast, both breakfast meals led to increased fullness and less hunger throughout the morning. The fMRI scans showed that brain activity in regions controlling food motivation and reward was reduced prior to lunch among the teens who had eaten breakfast. Among the teens who had eaten the high protein meals, their feeling of satiety was greatest and their reward-driven eating behavior showed the most improvement.
Leidy said that the findings “suggest that a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control and prevent overeating in young people.”