Are you eating nothing but cereal in the morning to lose weight? While studies show that eating breakfast helps improve satiety and reduce snacking throughout the day, eating only carbs might not help you meet your goals. Consider adding some fat and protein too.
A growing body of studies shows that while eating breakfast helps you feel full and satisfied throughout the day, including some fat and protein helps boost that satiety and regulate blood sugar levels — and might even help you burn more fat overall.
The Case for Breakfast
If you're trying to lose weight, you need to establish a calorie deficit, which means burning more calories than you take in. But that doesn't necessarily mean skipping breakfast. As noted in an analysis published in the May 2016 issue of Advances in Nutrition, a growing body of evidence supports eating breakfast as a useful tool for managing body weight and overall daily food intake.
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As the authors explain, evidence is slowly aligning to indicate that eating more protein and fiber at breakfast, and eating more of your daily calories in the morning — as opposed to eating a big dinner at night — can help with weight loss.
A small study of 20 subjects, with results published in an April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, offers a sterling example of this. The researchers found that eating breakfast — whether it was high in carbohydrates or protein — produced an overall improvement of the subjects' appetite as well as hormonal and neural signals involving hunger. It also reduced evening snacking and improved overall satiety during the day, all without increasing daily calorie intake. But the high-protein breakfast produced even more improvement in those measures than the other breakfast types.
That matters, because if you're weighing the choice of eating eggs or cereal for breakfast, most cereals are very high in carbohydrates. However, as the USDA notes, a single boiled or poached egg has about 12.5 grams of protein and 9.4 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate. So if you're looking for an easy way to increase protein or fat in your breakfast, including an egg is an easy solution.
Read more: 9 Things You May Not Know About Eggs
When Glycemic Response Matters
If you're eating only cereal for breakfast, weight loss might be more difficult. As noted in a study of 64 overweight but otherwise healthy adults, published in the September 2014 issue of the journal Appetite, cutting fat and increasing carbohydrates at breakfast tended to leave the subjects feeling hungrier again earlier in the day, which researchers note could contribute to weight gain over the long term.
Another study, published in a March 2015 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, involved just 12 subjects with type 2 diabetes. But it's still worthy of note, because it found that eating a breakfast that was higher in protein and slightly lower in carbs (35 percent protein and 45 percent carbs, versus 15 percent protein and 65 percent carbs) helped the subjects control their blood sugar levels throughout the day, including after a subsequent lunch.
One final piece of this still-evolving science puzzle is a study published in the February 2018 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, in which researchers evaluated 29 subjects who ate either a high-fat breakfast (35 percent carbs, 20 percent protein and 45 percent fat) or a high-carb breakfast (60 percent carbs, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat). They found some promising evidence that eating the higher-fat, lower-carb breakfast might improve fat oxidation and reduce overall risk of metabolic disease.
The final verdict? While science around breakfast and weight loss is still evolving, the current evidence indicates that balancing your carb intake with protein and fat offers the best, and most satisfying, results. So you could enjoy the best of both worlds by eating a modest serving of fiber-rich, whole grain cereal for breakfast and an egg or two.
- Appetite: "Return of Hunger Following a Relatively High Carbohydrate Breakfast Is Associated With Earlier Recorded Glucose Peak and Nadir"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Evaluating the Intervention-Based Evidence Surrounding the Causal Role of Breakfast on Markers of Weight Management, With Specific Focus on Breakfast Composition and Size"
- Journal of Nutrition: "A High-Fat Compared with a High-Carbohydrate Breakfast Enhances 24-Hour Fat Oxidation in Older Adults"
- Journal of Nutrition: "A High-Protein Breakfast Induces Greater Insulin and Glucose-Dependent Insulinotropic Peptide Responses..."
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Beneficial Effects of a Higher-Protein Breakfast..."
- FoodData Central: "Egg, Whole, Boiled or Poached"