Breakfast. It seems like forever since Mom told us breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but one study shows it's actually true—she wasn't just nagging us. Breakfast is a key component of weight management: A study presented at the 90th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society showed that participants who consumed large breakfasts high in protein and carbohydrates followed by a low-carb, low calorie diet for the rest of the day lost almost five times as much weight as the participants who followed a low-carb, high-protein diet throughout the day. So what's the big deal about breakfast? And what is a big breakfast anyway? It doesn't seem like the lumberjack special at the local diner would do much to get the pounds off, so what should we be eating?
The study supported the idea that when we wake up in the morning, our bodies want food. You've burned through all the fuel from the previous day, and now your body's ready to burn anything—even muscle—to get a jump-start on the day. And if you skip breakfast, muscle is indeed what your body will burn. Later in the day, your brain is still in starvation mode from breakfast (or lack thereof), so your body will store all the calories you eat as adipose tissue, or fat, to save up for the next day when you try to starve it again. This study also found that levels of serotonin, the chemical responsible for controlling cravings, were much higher in the morning, which is why breakfast is the meal so many of us are willing to skip. But if our bodies are left unfed, our serotonin levels drop, and our bodies' craving for sweets begin to rise throughout the day.
But before you hit McDonald's for their 800-calorie Big Breakfast, or worse, their 1,150-calorie Deluxe Breakfast, or swing by Denny's for a 740-calorie Grand Slam or 950-calorie All-American Slam with hash browns, keep in mind, these weren't the breakfasts the study participants consumed. The big-breakfast group had a 610-calorie breakfast as part of a 1,240-calorie day. Breakfasts included milk, lean meat, cheese, whole grains, a serving of healthy fat, and one ounce of chocolate or candy to defray the craving for sweets. The other group's participants consumed 1,085 calories per day as part of a high-protein, low-carb diet; only 290 of their daily calories were consumed at breakfast. Both groups were on their respective diets for eight months. The high-protein group lost an average of nine pounds, but the big-breakfast group lost an average of 40 pounds. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the big-breakfast group complained less about cravings and hunger.
The big-breakfast group's breakfast consisted of 58 grams of carbs, 47 grams of protein, and 22 grams of fat. Study reviewers attribute some of the success of the big-breakfast group to the fact that the protein and healthy fats eaten kept the participants full and reduced cravings. They also said that nutritional requirements were well met and that there weren't empty calories consumed, because the breakfasts included lots of whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy unsaturated fats. So bad news for the lumberjack-special devotees—a big plate of greasy hash browns, bacon, and biscuits with gravy isn't going to get the job done, unless the job we're discussing is clogging your arteries.
Here are some healthy big breakfasts, similar to the ones consumed by the study's participants.
Chicken and the Egg
2 large eggs, scrambled
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled
589 calories, 52 grams carbohydrates, 48 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 5.5 grams saturated fat, 12 grams fiber.
Oats 'n' Berries Breakfast
1 packet plain instant oatmeal, prepared, with 1 scoop Beachbody® Whey Protein Powder
1 cup fresh blueberries
3 oz. roasted turkey breast
1 large hard-boiled egg
1 oz. dark chocolate
631 calories, 62 grams carbohydrates, 47 grams protein, 21 grams fat. 8 grams saturated fat, 10 grams fiber.
Two Egg Sandwiches
2 whole wheat English muffins, toasted
2 large poached eggs
2 slices low-fat Swiss cheese
2 slices Canadian bacon, grilled
597 calories, 57 grams carbohydrates, 45 grams protein, 13 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 8 grams fiber.
1 cup cottage cheese (2% milk fat)
1 cup sliced peaches, canned in juice, not syrup
1 slice whole wheat toast
2 vegetarian sausage links, cooked
621 calories, 62.5 grams carbohydrates, 47 grams protein, 26.5 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, 16.5 grams fiber.
1 6-oz. can light tuna, canned in water, drained
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise (preferably olive oil- or canola oil-based)
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 oz. dark chocolate
592 calories, 45 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams protein, 22 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 10 grams fiber.