In the movie Pulp Fiction, Samuel L Jackson’s character interrupts a couple of ‘associates’ as they tuck into some early morning Big Kahuna Burgers, and sardonically declares ‘Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.’
While the nutritional benefits of a Big Kahuna may be negligible, research from the University of Missouri has found that a protein-rich healthy breakfast does increase satiety and reduce hunger. Functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) also showed that higher protein meals reduced brain signals which control food motivation and reward-driven eating behaviour.
Heather Leidy, assistant professor in the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, said ‘Everyone knows that eating breakfast is important, but many people still don’t make it a priority. This research provides additional evidence that breakfast is a valuable strategy to control appetite and regulate food intake.’
A subject group of teenagers – a group most likely to forego breakfast – was studied for a three-week period, during which they either continued skipping breakfast, consumed 500-calorie breakfast meals of cereal and milk (containing normal levels of protein) or high protein meals of Belgium waffles, syrup and yoghurt. Appetite and satiety questionnaires were filled in at the conclusion of each week. Directly prior to lunch, functional MRI scans were used to identify brain activation responses.
Both breakfast meals resulted in greater feelings of fullness and reduced hunger compared with those who skipped breakfast. The functional MRI results showed reduced brain activity in regions controlling food motivation and reward in those who ate breakfast. Those who consumed the higher protein breakfast exhibited even greater positive changes in these areas.
Leidy said, ‘Incorporating a healthy breakfast containing protein-rich foods can be a simple strategy for people to stay satisfied longer, and therefore, be less prone to snacking. People reach for convenient snack foods to satisfy their hunger between meals, but these foods are almost always high in sugar and fat and add a substantial amount of calories to the diet. These findings suggest that a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control and prevent overeating in young people.’