September's Health Genie: Breakfast Protein

Dear Health Genie,

Can you help me convince my family to eat breakfast rich in protein? I think it would improve their mood and help them have better energy, performance and lunch choices.

Margie Marmalade

Dear Margie,

You are right to be concerned about your family’s morning protein intake. Here are results from a few studies that support eating more protein at breakfast for better mental performance, mood and midday food choices:

Undergraduate students that ate a “high protein” breakfast (50% protein, 30% carbohydrate, 20% fat) as opposed to an “adequate protein” breakfast (10% protein, 70% carbohydrate, 20% fat) had more favorable self-ratings of mood and alertness.

  • In the above-mentioned study, the “high protein” group scored better in a continuous attention test designed to measure vigilance and distractibility.
  • A study of overweight teen girls who usually skip breakfast found that these girls had greater activity in regions of the brain that mark satiety and lower activity in regions associated with reward-based drive for eating (cravings) on days they ate a “high protein” breakfast. Results were favorable but lower on days they ate an “adequate protein” breakfast, results were still favorable, but lower than on days they ate a “high protein” breakfast.
  • A group of pre-school aged children were allowed to select breakfast and lunch from a menu and had portions measured before and after eating by researchers. After each meal they completed age appropriate activities and rated their hunger and mood for an interviewer using a number of smiling or frowning faces. Those who ate a lower glycemic index meal described less hunger .  The researchers attributed this to higher proportions of protein and fat in the meals that scored as lower glycemic index.

If your family members are like most people, they accept that they should eat a more nutritious breakfast but feel limited by low appetite first thing in the morning, too little time or the perception that many of the traditional breakfast foods are fattening.  If you enjoy eating meat, dairy and eggs, you might consider that the morning is the best time to eat these or other protein and calorie dense foods. Eating these foods may improve satiety and blood sugar balance throughout the day.  Vegans can aim for the same effect with nut butter on toast or any other food that is high in protein, carbohydrates and fat. There are as many answers to creating an appealing breakfast as there are tastes and diets.

Short preparation time is important for most people traveling to work or school early in the morning.  Many people prefer something easy to stomach or convenient to take on the go. There is  some research supporting that a liquid breakfast high in protein is just as satisfying, or even more so, than solid food of a similar nutrient composition..  Individuals have different needs based on their metabolism, activity and digestion, which is somewhat conditioned by an individual’s habits. Ideally we would treat our breakfast as we do other meals, combining foods to achieve adequate protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, hydration, fullness and enjoyment.  If time or appetite limits you from doing this in the morning, it is worth using a high protein meal replacement.  Combining this  with dairy or plant based milks, fruit, yogurt or other nutritious smoothie ingredients such as nut butters, raw greens or juice can be very tasty.    

For those short on time, we offer a number of high protein powders, meal replacement powders and ready- to- drink meal replacement beverages in the Wellness Department at City Market. The choices range from plain to sweet, traditional vanilla to berry, whey to spirulina, and include a vegan, allergen free, raw and sprouted complete protein in three flavors.  The staff members have tried many of these and some are available to purchase in a trial size.

Those with more time, may want to peruse the local and Vermont made options on offer throughout the store. For example, cheese, eggs, bacon, produce, tempeh, tofu, bagels, bread, granola, yogurt, kefir, milk. Any number of these together will get you the right combination of macronutrients to get your day started off right! Want to make enough for the whole family, try this recipe for Frittata with Fresh Greens.

Good Luck,
The Health Genie


Sources in order of citation:

1) Yao-Chi Zeng, Shun-Min Li, Guo-Liang Xiong, Hui-Min Su, Jian-Cheng Wan.
Influences of protein to energy ratios in breakfast on mood, alertness and attention in the healthy undergraduate students. Health Vol.3 No.6, June 2011  PP.383-393. 

2) Leidy HJ, Lepping RJ, Savage CR, Harris CT. Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens: a pilot fMRI study. Obesity. 2011 Oct;19(10):2019-25.

3)  LaCombe1, Allison & Vijay Ganji . Influence of two breakfast meals differing in glycemic load on satiety, hunger, and energy intake in preschool children. Nutriton Journal. 2010; 9: 53.

4)  Leidy HJ, Bales-Voelker LI, Harris CT. A protein-rich beverage consumed as a breakfast meal leads to weaker appetitive and dietary responses v. a protein-rich solid breakfast meal in adolescents. Brittish Journal of Nutrition. 2011 Jul;106(1):37-41. Epub 2011 Feb 15.


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