It may seem like carbs and protein are in a constant battle. When you're dieting, should you eat carbs in the a.m. or stick to high protein breakfasts? Is there a best time to eat carbs, or should you even eat much of them at all? In the past, the science has reflected disagreement on these answers.
More recent research, however, shows that eating protein in the morning may be more beneficial than having carbs for breakfast. That doesn't mean that you can't have any carbohydrates at all, but your best bet may be to include complex carbohydrates in the form of nonstarchy vegetables with high-protein sources, like eggs.
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Studies show that eating protein instead of carbohydrates in the morning can help you feel full longer during the day and lead to less snacking at night — two factors that can help promote weight loss and weight maintenance. If you have a choice between going for eggs or oatmeal, choose the eggs.
Protein or Carbs for Breakfast
Breakfast foods typically fall into two major categories: high in protein or high in carbohydrates. On one side of the coin you have the traditional protein-heavy bacon and eggs fare and on the other lie ready-to-eat cereals and oatmeal, which are chock-full of carbohydrates. So, which is the best choice?
Well, if weight loss is your goal, you may be better off reaching for the protein. Because eggs are a typical breakfast staple, many studies use them as their protein source when trying to figure out which foods are the best option.
One study, published in the journal Nutrients in February 2017, looked at the difference between eating two eggs or a packet of oatmeal for breakfast. Participants who ate the eggs felt full longer than the group who ate oatmeal. As a result, egg-eaters naturally ate less during the day.
Researchers concluded that high-protein breakfasts can increase the amount of calories you burn and help promote weight loss. They also found that protein decreases the amount of ghrelin in your blood. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you to eat more, and when its levels stay low, it's easier to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.
Another study that came from a February 2018 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition added to these findings by stating that eating eggs instead of oatmeal for breakfast increased the amount of specific antioxidant substances called carotenoids in the blood and, contrary to popular belief, improved cholesterol levels and other markers for heart disease.
In other words, choosing protein-rich eggs over carbohydrate-loaded oatmeal can provide more of certain nutrients while also helping you lose weight.
More Evidence for Protein
Researchers from one more study, which was published in the_ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition_ in February 2013, wanted to see if a high-protein breakfast had more benefits than a normal-protein breakfast. For this study, a normal-protein breakfast consisted of 15 percent protein and 65 percent carbohydrates, while a high-protein breakfast clocked in at 40 percent protein and 40 percent carbohydrates.
At the end of the small study, which lasted seven days, participants in the high-protein breakfast group reported feeling full longer. As a result, they snacked less at night. Researchers also found that the higher-protein breakfasts improved hormonal and neural signals that play important roles in hunger.
While these studies looked at how protein and carbohydrates affect healthy individuals, other studies looked at how protein and carbohydrates affect Type 2 diabetics. Similar to the findings from the previous studies, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in February 2014 found that decreasing carbohydrates (not necessarily just in the morning, but overall) can help improve blood sugar and promote fat loss, especially in the belly area, in those with Type 2 diabetes.
Best Time to Eat Carbs
Although including high-quality protein in your breakfast seems to have more benefits than eating a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, that doesn't mean that you can't eat carbohydrates at all. In fact, if you decide you want to include carbohydrates in your day, the best time to eat those carbs may be in the morning or early afternoon.
According to a report published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology in December 2015, your body has a circadian rhythm that regulates the metabolism of sugars (from carbohydrates) and fats. This circadian rhythm is designed so that the metabolism of these nutrients happens during the day, instead of at night, when melatonin is released. Because of this, it's best to get your carbs in early so your body can digest and metabolize them before your it goes into sleep mode.
You can make a high-protein, moderate-carbohydrate breakfast by scrambling some eggs with broccoli or spinach and serving them with a side of sweet potato hash browns. This provides a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates, instead of refined carbohydrates that come from most breakfast cereals (including oatmeal).
What About Skipping Breakfast?
Now, here's something that might really blow your mind: Instead of trying to decide between carbs or protein in the morning, you may be better off just skipping breakfast altogether. That might go against everything you've ever been told, but with the rising popularity of intermittent fasting, more research is emerging on whether skipping meals can help you meet your goals.
A study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2014 took a look at whether eating breakfast in the morning had a significant effect on weight. Participants in the study were divided into three groups. One group could choose whether to eat breakfast; another group was instructed to eat before 10 a.m.; and the last group was told not to eat anything before 11 a.m.
At the end of the study, researchers found that there was no significant difference in weight loss between the participants who ate breakfast and those who didn't. The researchers did note, though, that eating breakfast was associated with a greater overall vitamin and mineral intake over the course of the whole day.
In other words, if you're not hungry in the morning, you don't have to force yourself to eat in the name of weight loss. The advice that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" may need to be reconsidered — healthy eating is all about what works best for you.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Effectiveness of Breakfast Recommendations on Weight Loss: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Beneficial Effects of a Higher-Protein Breakfast on the Appetitive, Hormonal, and Neural Signals Controlling Energy Intake Regulation in Overweight/Obese, “Breakfast-Skipping,” Late-Adolescent Girls"
- Journal of Nutrition: "A Lower-Carbohydrate, Higher-Fat Diet Reduces Abdominal and Intermuscular Fat and Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes"
- Nutrients: "Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin While Maintaining the LDL/HDL Ratio"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Two Eggs/Day Increased Plasma Carotenoids and Choline Without Increasing Trimethyl Amine N-Oxide Concentrations"
- Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology: "Circadian Rhythms in Glucose and Lipid Metabolism in Nocturnal and Diurnal Mammals"
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