Want a doughnut or a cookie with your eggs this morning? Go ahead. It might just help you keep off the weight.
A study done by a senior physician at Tel Aviv University’s Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel, found dieters have less hunger and craving throughout the day and are better able to keep off lost weight if they eat a carbohydrate-rich, protein-packed breakfast that includes dessert.
“The goal of a weight-loss diet should be not only weight reduction, but also reduction of hunger and craving, thus helping prevent weight regain,” said Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, the study’s principal investigator.
Jakubowicz and her co-authors studied nearly 200 nondiabetic obese adults randomly assigned to eat one of two low-calorie diets. Both diets had about 1,600 daily calories for men and 1,400 for women, but differed mainly in the composition of breakfast.
One group in the study ate a low-carbohydrate diet, including a 304-calorie breakfast with only 10 grams of carbs. The other group had a 600-calorie breakfast with 60 grams of carbs, which included a small sweet, such as a cookie, cake or doughnut. Both diets also contained protein such as egg whites, cheese, low-fat milk or tuna, but the dessert-with-breakfast diet had 45 grams of protein, 15 grams more than the low-carb diet.
Halfway through the eight-month study, those in both groups lost an average of 33 pounds per person, showing both diets work similarly. However, during the last four months of the study, the low-carb group regained an average of 22 pounds per person while those on the dessert-with-breakfast diet lost another 15 pounds each.
In addition, those who ate dessert with breakfast reported feeling less hunger and fewer cravings than the other group, and they were better able to stick with their calorie requirements.
An important meal
Kathleen Nielsen, director of food and nutrition services at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, said the study ties together some nutrition principles related to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight that have been known and taught for years.
“A hearty breakfast should be eaten every day. The breakfast should be composed of carbohydrates and proteins,” she said. “Desserts are part of a healthy diet and should not be eliminated. Breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day. Eating a good breakfast helps control food craving, and all food can fit in moderation.”
Nielsen said eating breakfast kick-starts the metabolism. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast have better control of the calories they eat and tend to weigh less, she said.
“People who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight. Breakfast is also important for cognitive functioning and being able to think clearly and to have energy for the day’s events,” Nielsen said. “Eating breakfast is a habit and for those who say they aren’t hungry in the morning or don’t like to eat, I tell them to start eating breakfast, and in a couple of weeks their body will adjust to it.”
Some people say they are hungrier if they eat breakfast, Nielsen said, and that by 10 a.m. they want to eat again. She said that means two things: They’ve gotten their metabolism going and they didn’t eat a big enough breakfast.
In favor of sweets
Jennifer James, outpatient dietitian at Ogden Regional Medical Center, said she agrees with parts of the study.
“I often tell my patients who are trying to lose weight to include some protein at breakfast for exactly the same reason. It makes them feel full longer,” she said. “As for dessert, working with people over the years regarding weight loss, I have found that if you include a treat, say up to 10 percent of their total calories, they are much more satisfied with their meal plans regardless of when they eat it during the day.”
So, for an 1,800-calorie meal plan, James said, a person could eat a 180-calorie dessert.
“It would be interesting to see what kind of results the researchers would get if they included the doughnut or cake in the afternoon or evening versus at breakfast,” she said. “I believe there is a psychological component to this as well and people feel less deprived when they can enjoy their chocolate or potato chips or whatever they crave in limited amounts. I have a friend who is perfectly content with her healthy meal plan as long as she includes one See’s chocolate after dinner every night.”
If too many carbohydrates are cut out, James said, people lose out on fruit, whole grains, milk and yogurt, all of which contain many important nutrients.
Don’t go overboard
Breakfast “breaks the fast,” James says, and ratchets our metabolism into a higher gear to digest a meal. It also helps concentration and the ability to focus. When children have a big test at school, they are told to eat a good breakfast, she said. The same advice works well for adults.
If a person skips breakfast, it sets them up to eat a lot more later in the day because they end up feeling hungrier, not to mention out of focus and tired.
Nielsen and James said a good breakfast plan could include a fresh piece of fruit, whole-wheat or whole-grain toast, milk, yogurt, eggs, bacon, Shredded Wheat, steel cut oatmeal and toasted walnuts. Protein shakes are also fine if you include some fresh fruit, yogurt or even a handful of spinach leaves.
“If I am working with a patient who loves doughnuts and wants to include them, I will work a small one into their meal plan so they can always have it, with the understanding that this is their treat and to leave the other desserts and treats alone,” James said. “I am not a big fan of doughnuts, but if it keeps the patient on track and feeling less deprived, so be it.
“Try to eat a combination of at least three different foods at your meals. By this, I don’t mean eat three different kinds of doughnuts at breakfast. Eat some carbohydrate with fiber and a source of fat such as oil, peanut butter or nuts and seeds, cheese or avocado.”
The study was published in the March issue of the journal Steroids and was presented at the Endocrine Society’s 94th annual meeting in Houston in June.