Teenagers who eat breakfast, particularly one high in protein, are less likely to crave junk food later, and scientists say a boost in the brain chemical dopamine may help explain why.
In contrast, teens who skip breakfast are more inclined to overeat later and have a greater risk of becoming overweight.
“Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast,” says Heather Leidy, 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 a new study, published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers studied the effects of different breakfasts on participants’ 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. 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.
“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 says.
“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, but Leidy says the findings may be generalized to a larger population of adults.
“In the US, people are skipping breakfast more frequently, which is associated with food cravings, overeating, and obesity,” Leidy says. “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 Beef Checkoff Program, the Egg Nutrition Center, and the Margaret Flynn Award from the University of Missouri funded the study.
Source: University of Missouri