The old admonition to start the day off with a good breakfast has new legs, thanks to a study out of Virginia Commonwealth University. The study found that eating a large breakfast rich in carbohydrates, protein, and fat leads to the loss of far more weight and body fat than eating a restricted-calorie, low-carb breakfast.
The research focused on 94 obese, inactive women. Those in the low-carb breakfast group ate 290 calories for breakfast, including seven grams of carbs and and 12 grams of protein. The big-breakfast group consumed 610 calories for breakfast, including a whopping 58 grams of carbs, 22 grams of fat, and 47 grams of protein. After eight months, the big-breakfast mommas lost five times as much weight as the strict dieters. Even more significant–the strict dieters had regained an average of 18 of the pounds they initially lost and were on their way back up the scale, while the big-breakfast subjects continued to lose weight.
Amazingly, the big-breakfast group lost that weight eating breakfasts that by traditional diet standards seem almost risqué. The morning menu typically contained three ounces of meat, two slices of cheese, two whole-grain servings, a serving of milk, one fat serving and one ounce of chocolate or candy. According to MedicineNet.com, a sample breakfast might be “a cup of milk, turkey, a slice of cheese, two slices of bread, mayonnaise, 1 ounce of chocolate candy, and a protein shake.”
It’s hard to even imagine jamming all that food into the mouth before high noon. But according to research director Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, that’s precisely the point — or at least, some of the point. She says that first thing in the morning, the brain chemical serotonin is at its peak. When serotonin levels are high, we don’t feel hunger, but when serotonin levels dip–as they do as the day wears on–the brain craves energy food such as cookies and candy in order to drive the levels back up. If the cravings nag enough so that you eat the sweets, your serotonin levels spike, your brain feels happy, and that triggers an addictive cycle where you associate sweets with the serotonin high and so you constantly crave them. To break the cycle, Jakubowicz suggests eating sweets when you don’t have a mad desire for them, such as first thing in the morning. That way the sweets won’t supply a serotonin boost and you break the addictive association.
Now that’s an interesting concept, and it seemed to work for the big-breakfast club, who balanced out the morning overload by having a small lunch and tiny dinner. They also reported reduced hunger throughout the day, unlike the low-carb dieters. Jakubowicz explains, “[A low carbohydrate diet] exacerbates the craving for carbohydrates and slows metabolism. As a result, after a short period of weight loss, there is a quick return to obesity.” Other factors include the fact that eating early gives the metabolism an early boost so the body burns calories better throughout the day.
So does this mean that you should stuff your face with pasta or donuts at 7 am? No, no, no! In fact, the diet consumed by the morning big-eaters, while effective for weight loss, leaves something to be desired. Certainly, it’s better balanced than the pastries-with-coffee option, which offers essentially no nutrients, no protein, and plenty of health-destroying bad fats and sugar. But notice that the diet that led to weight loss contained no fruit or vegetables in the morning (although afternoon and evening meals had these elements), and did contain lots of dairy. There are better ways to get a well-balanced morning slam without loading up on mucous-producing, allergy-inducing, immune-destroying,hormone-laden milk, cheese, nitrate-spiked breakfast meats, and buttered toast. Weight loss is important, but so is taking in foods that support the Baseline of Health Program.
First, in the carbs department, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The value of any food, and therefore how your body handles it, depends on the nutrient density — or calorie to nutrient ratio–of that particular food. For instance, a plain Krispy Kreme cruller has 19 grams of fat, and only one gram of fiber and two of protein — with almost no vitamins or minerals to offer. On a per-calorie basis, fruit is a far better choice, with an apple, for instance, containing 14 grams of fiber, 107 grams of Potassium, 54 grams of Vitamin A and almost five grams of Vitamin C. And even whole wheat bread, consumed by the high-carb group, has a far higher nutrient density than breakfast pastries. And so, fulfilling the carb requirement with foods richer in nutrients would be a wiser choice — and the same thing goes for proteins.
The big-breakfast group might have benefited more in terms of overall health had they substituted some of the dairy with hypoallergenic, enzyme-, antioxidant-, and amino-rich proteins from sources such as brown rice, spirulina, and yellow-pea protein — and had they substituted fruits and vegetables for some of the carbs. While the research team got right the idea of front-loading the day with the highest-caloric intake, they might do well to consider alternative, healthier sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fats for the morning meal.