If you start your day with a bagel, bowl or cereal, or nothing at all you may be setting yourself up for overeating, especially at night. I’ve seen it dozens of times among my clients, and a new study published in the journal Obesity confirms it – eating breakfast, especially one with a healthy dose of protein, may be the key to controlling your appetite all day long.
The study specifically targeted adolescent breakfast skippers, because roughly 60 percent of this group misses this meal daily, but the results would likely carry over to adults as well. For three weeks, the teens either continued to skip breakfast or munched on breakfast meals containing cereal and milk (which contained normal quantities of protein) or higher protein options. They also completed appetite and satiety questionnaires and underwent brain scans.
Compared to skipping, both breakfast meals led to reductions in hunger. The scans also showed that the regions of the brain that trigger the desire to eat were less stimulated later in the day, and even more so by the higher protein breakfasts. So if you tend to find yourself raiding the snack drawer in the afternoon or overeating at night, try bolstering your breakfast with protein. Each of these four options provides at least 10 grams, and can be incorporated into a super quick, even on-the-go meal:
Nonfat Greek Yogurt
One single serve container provides 15 grams of protein. To make it a complete breakfast fold in some whole grain cereal or toasted oats, fresh or dried fruit, and nuts or seeds. Go organic if you can and to kick up the flavor, jazz it up with a dash of spices, grated ginger or citrus zest. One of the favorite combos from my newest book is whole grain cereal, dried mulberries, sliced almonds, and a pinch of ground cloves.
Just ¼ cup, the size of a golf ball, packs 14 grams of high quality protein. If you're not familiar with soy nuts you may be familiar with edamame, a popular appetizer at sushi restaurants. Soy nuts are simply roasted, shelled edamame – they have sort of a toasted, nutty flavor and crunchy texture. If you buy them unsalted (preferably organic), they make a great addition to hot or cold cereal to pump up the protein content. I love sprinkling them on top of peanut butter oatmeal (quick cooking rolled oats made with water with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter swirled in) along with cinnamon and a sliced mini banana.
One half cup of nonfat cottage cheese (preferably organic) provides 15 g of protein and it's very versatile. You can spread it on a slice of whole grain toast and top with sliced fruit, chopped nuts and spices like cinnamon for a sweet version, or for a savory option top with sliced tomato, along with fresh basil, cracked black pepper and avocado.
Just 1 oz of jerky can pack 12-16 g of protein and you can find ultra lean, natural and organic options these days, such as turkey and even salmon and tuna jerky. If you want to stash a balanced ready-to-eat meal in your bag or office, round it out with some whole grain crackers, sunflower seeds and a 4 oz 100% juice box.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.