Healthy Eating: The Importance of Protein at Breakfast

By Marsha Hudnall
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Importance of protein at breakfast | Healthy eating choices from Green Mountain at Fox Run

Smoked salmon, or lox, is one of my favorite breakfast protein choices. Maybe not with a pickle and onions, though. :)

Do you include a good source of protein in most of your breakfasts?  If you feel like you’re hungry much of the time even when eating well-balanced meals, try it as an experiment.

This isn’t a new idea to many of us.  But I see enough bloggers either just discovering this, or still not having discovered it, that I think it’s worth mentioning.

Research shows protein at breakfast helps control hunger.

Sometimes we have a hard time trusting what we’re feeling.  Or maybe we don’t always realize what produces a certain effect.  A look at the research can help.

To explore the impact of protein on satiety, Heather J. Leidy, PhD, has conducted a number of studies examining the question of whether moderate-protein diets, such as the Zone or South Beach diet, which also contain adequate amounts of fruits and veggies, have the same appetite-controlling effects as high-protein diets like the Atkins diet, which typically contain inadequate amounts of these important foods.   She found they did, which is great news for the health of dieters.

But you don’t have to be a dieter to benefit from her research.  Leidy’s research reinforces that balanced eating can help us avoid walking around hungry when we’d rather be doing something else than thinking about and looking for food.

Always one to grab an opportunity to  talk about the fact that diets don’t work, I’ll digress briefly here to say that while high-protein diets initially got the attention of nutrition researchers because they seemed to work so well (hence Leider’s choice of method for her studies), my emphasis is on the “seemed.”  Like all weight loss diets, they work only in the short term for many, if not most, of us.  We may lose the weight, but few of us keep it off.

But we were talking about breakfast.

Oh, yeah.  Well, in her studies, Leidy also found that people who consumed extra protein at breakfast reported “greater initial and sustained fullness throughout the day.”  Suggesting we may get the most bang from extra protein at breakfast.

Does the type of protein matter?

Who knows?  As so often is the case, the evidence is conflicting.  One study showed animal protein to be more satiating than plant protein.  Another showed a meal that included fish produced more satiety than meals featuring beef and chicken, but then a subsequent study showed that wasn’t true.  And more studies comparing casein (milk protein), soy and whey showed mixed results.  The only clear conclusion is that protein, no matter the source, appears to be more satiating than carbohydrate.

How much protein should we eat to get this effect?

A moderate increase in dietary protein seems to translate to about 30% of calories.  But what is that?  Basically, it’s about having a good source of protein at your meals.  The Plate Model for Healthy Eating gives a picture of that, to help you accomplish it without getting caught up in the numbers.

Which leads me to an important point.  Intuitive eating, attuned eating, mindful eating — all names for essentially the same thing — isn’t focused on getting exact amounts of any nutrient at a meal.  Instead, it’s about enjoying meals, and eating in a way that makes us feel well.  At Green Mountain, we do find that many people report better satiety when they eat protein at breakfast, so it’s worth a try if that’s something you struggle with.  As to the type of protein, well, we serve everything from eggs to nuts/seeds to nut butters.  There’s also protein in milk and yogurt but in our experience, that doesn’t seem to do it for a lot of people.  Whether that’s because they’re usually eating milk or yogurt that is very low in fat, we don’t know.

Do you feel less hungry when you include a good source of protein in your breakfasts?

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