If your breakfast of choice is something sweet, you may want to reconsider — at least some days.
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Here's why: Starting your day with a sugary, low-fiber breakfast can give you a quick rush of energy, but it'll then be followed by a crash and a faster return of hunger long before lunch, explains Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a plant-based performance nutrition coach.
What happens is that sugary, refined-carb breakfast hits your bloodstream, which causes your glucose to spike. That's the energy rush. But then insulin comes on to the scene — and a lot of insulin at that — to quickly help shuttle all of that glucose into your cells. After that glucose is stored, that's when the crash hits and the hunger soon sets in.
To prevent this a.m. rollercoaster ride, try building a better breakfast with these tips on how to stop sugar cravings, starting with your first meal of the day.
1. Fill Your Breakfast With Fiber
"Fiber-rich foods slow the rate of digestion, keep you fuller longer, delay the return of hunger, and result in steady, even energy throughout the morning," Sass says.
"Anecdotally, I've found that clients who eat fiber-rich foods at every meal, including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds tend to experience fewer sweet cravings throughout the day," adding that when clients eat a low-fiber, sugary breakfast — even if it's the same number of calories as the fiber-rich breakfast — they typically experience the opposite effect.
2. Stick to a Schedule
Scheduling meals isn't for everyone, but it can be a strategy worth implementing to combat cravings if that's something you're struggling with.
"In my experience, not eating on a regular schedule, which includes skipping meals or eating erratically (as in, at different times and varying amounts from day to day), can lead to more sweet cravings," says Sass.
Breakfast has the potential to be the easiest meal for you to schedule — with a little planning the night before, or even at the beginning of the week, you can put together a week's worth of low-sugar breakfasts.
3. Skip the Artificial Sweeteners
You'll want to forgo any highly intense sweetener — regardless of whether it's natural or artificial. Eating something sweet, and particularly something that contains an artificial sweetener, stokes our appetite, according to a June 2010 review published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
Studies show that people and animals who eat a meal or drink a drink with an artificial sweetener are more likely to eat more food (and, thus, calories) at their next meal.
Experts aren't sure why artificial sweeteners have this effect, but they have a couple of theories: One is that the food reward pathway in our brains isn't satisfied with these types of sweeteners; another is that because they're typically calorie-free, nothing really "registers" with our bodies, which then act as if they're short on calories.
4. Include Some Protein
Pumping up the protein at breakfast may not stave off sugar cravings specifically, but it has the potential to satisfy your appetite more than if you were to eat a breakfast devoid of protein, or eat no breakfast at all, per a small September 2012 study in the journal Obesity.
Researchers studied teenagers who were regular breakfast skippers. For a week they ate either a high-protein breakfast or a moderate-protein breakfast; then they ate the other breakfast for a week. Eating breakfast in general — versus skipping it — left them all fuller and less hungry throughout the morning.
But when they ate the high-protein breakfast, something additional happened: The areas of their brains associated with food motivation and reward weren't as activated, suggesting even greater changes in satiety. It's important to note that the study didn't look at sugar cravings specifically, but protein at breakfast seems to potentially dampen lunchtime cravings of any kind.
- Obesity: "Neural Responses to Visual Food Stimuli After a Normal vs. Higher Protein Breakfast in Breakfast-Skipping Teens: A Pilot fMRI Study"
- ScienceDaily: "Eat a protein-rich breakfast to reduce food cravings, prevent overeating later, researcher finds"
- Yale J Biol Med: "Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings"