Details important in breakfast study

121682410I heard something about research showing that eating a big breakfast is good for people with diabetes. Can you tell me details? 

You probably saw some news coverage of a relatively small study reported at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting in late September.

The findings were intriguing. Participants in the study’s “big breakfast” group ended up with blood sugar level reductions three times greater than those in the “small breakfast” group. About one-third of the big breakfast participants were able to reduce their daily diabetic medication within the study period of three months.

However, it’s important to remember some key facts: The study hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so its findings are considered preliminary. Reports were based solely on the presentation and a press release from the association.

Also, the study involved just 59 people, was relatively brief and appeared to have a high dropout rate. So scientists are anxious to see if the results can be reproduced in more robust studies.

Finally, the big breakfasts in this study also had a higher percentage of protein and fat, which rules out high-carbohydrate morning fare such as a tall stack of pancakes with syrup.

In the study, participants who were in the big breakfast group ate 33 percent of their total daily calories at breakfast time, compared to 12.5 percent of total calories for the small breakfast group.

That means that for participants who consumed 1,800 calories a day, their “big breakfast” would have consisted of 600 calories. It’s not clear what the study participants actually ate, but an example of a 600-calorie breakfast that’s higher in protein and fat would be two extra-large eggs (160 calories); an ounce of cheddar cheese (115 calories); a whole-wheat honey English muffin (130 calories); a tablespoon of peanut butter (95 calories); and a cup of 1 percent milk (100 calories).

In comparison, people in the “small breakfast” group consuming the same 1,800 calories in a day would be limited to 225 calories for breakfast, with a lower proportion of protein and fat. Again, it’s not clear what was on their menu, but they might have had cereal with low-fat milk, for example, or a slice of toast with jam and orange juice.

While results are preliminary, consistently eating breakfast — especially one with lean protein — is associated with better weight management and lower blood sugar levels. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist for more information.

Why it’s important to eat breakfast

I know I should eat breakfast, but I rarely do. Can you explain why it’s so important? I’m always looking for ways to try to lose some extra pounds, and it seems like a good idea to not eat when I’m not hungry, which is typically in the morning.

On the surface, your habits make some sense. Nutritionists regularly encourage people to become more attuned to their inner hunger and appetite signals, and not eating (or stopping eating) when your hunger is satisfied is doing just that.

But this raises the question: Why aren’t you hungry in the morning? The whole reason the meal is called “breakfast” is because by eating it, you’re breaking the fast you’ve experienced overnight. Do you typically eat a heavy dinner or have a high-calorie snack at night? Cutting back later in the day might be more effective at helping you lose those extra pounds than skipping breakfast.

A new study sheds some light on why this might be. The British study, recently presented at the Neuroscience 2012 conference, focused on the differences in people’s brain activity when they skip breakfast and how that affects their calorie intake later in the day.

For the study, researchers asked participants to come in for two MRIs (magnetic resonance images, or brain scans) before they had anything to eat that day. On one of their visits, they were given breakfast before the MRI; on the other visit, they weren’t. All were given lunch after the tests.

The researchers found that when the fasting participants were shown pictures of high-calorie foods during the MRIs, the pleasure-seeking portion of the brain was activated more strongly than when they had eaten breakfast. The breakfast-skippers also ate more at lunch.

This finding supports other research that shows that eating breakfast can reduce overall food intake for the rest of the day.

In fact, an expert panel at the Institute of Food Technologists conference earlier this year reported that studies of young people show that those who don’t eat breakfast consume 40 percent more sweets, 55 percent more soft drinks, 45 percent fewer vegetables and 30 percent less fruit than those who do.

Breakfasts higher in protein, including yogurt, an egg (including egg in waffles or French toast) or even hummus, for example, seem to have a stronger effect.

So, see if you can change your morning routine to incorporate a breakfast that includes some protein. It just might make a difference in helping you lose those extra pounds.