New research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating a protein-rich breakfast reduces hunger, boosts satiety and reduces brain responses involved with food cravings more than a typical breakfast that is lower in protein. These responses were followed by a significant reduction in unhealthy evening snacking following the protein-rich breakfast only.

The study, conducted at the University of Missouri, measured the effects of eating either a high-protein breakfast that included eggs and beef (containing 35 grams of protein), a ready-to-eat cereal breakfast with less than half the protein (13 grams of protein) but equal amount of calories (350 calories), or no breakfast for seven days, in overweight teenage girls who typically skip breakfast.

Participants who consumed breakfast meals that included protein-rich eggs and beef, which contained 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 20% fat, reported greater feelings of fullness compared to those who ate a cereal-based breakfast, which contained 15% protein, 65% carbohydrate and 20% fat. The higher-protein breakfast also led to significant improvements in daily hunger and satiety hormone levels, reduced food cravings prior to dinner (as shown from reduced neural activation) and resulted in consumption of fewer high-fat evening snacks than skipping breakfast.

Building on the benefits of breakfast with protein
While several studies have examined the cognitive benefits of eating breakfast, such as greater memory recall time, improved grades and higher test scores, these findings build on a growing body of evidence supporting the beneficial role of protein as part of a nutritious breakfast. High-quality protein from foods like eggs and lean beef is a powerful nutrient that helps strengthen and sustain the body and may help weight management.

"Adolescents consume nearly half of their daily calories after 4 p.m., often through foods with little nutritional value. Eating breakfast, particularly one that is higher in protein, appears to help control unhealthy nighttime snacking," says Dr. Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at University of Missouri and lead author of the study.

Protein at the breakfast table
"Luckily, it's easy to enjoy more high-quality protein in your diet and get the essential nutrients you need for optimal health," says registered dietitian Neva Cochran. "Eggs and lean meat are perfect partners for vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy, making it even easier to enjoy a balanced diet."

Cochran also suggests planning ahead by hard-boiling eggs and cutting up fruits and vegetables over the weekend or making a protein-rich, grab-and-go breakfast like a beef, egg and spinach breakfast sandwich.