Breakfast: the most important meal of the day?

School Of Nutrition Posted Mar 10, 2015 Future Fit Training

We all know that breakfast provides the body and brain with much needed fuel after an overnight fast.

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day?

We also know that eating breakfast may be good for your waistline too, as some research has shown that those who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.  

But now there is another reason to tuck into your breakfast cereal. Recent findings published in the Nutrition Journal show that eating a morning meal can increase a brain chemical needed to regulate food intake and cravings.

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia [1] found that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast. Furthermore, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savoury - or high-fat - foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day.

This study was conducted on sixteen overweight/obese ‘breakfast skipping’ young women. For the study, researchers examined the effect that different breakfasts had on participants' dopamine levels. Dopamine, a chemical released by nerve cells, plays a major role in the regulation of food intake by stimulating reward-driven eating behaviour. Dopamine levels were determined by measuring homovanillic acid (HVA), which is the main dopamine metabolite.

Eating initiates the release of dopamine, which stimulates feelings of food reward. This reward response is an important part of eating because it helps to properly regulate food intake. In fact, dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese [2], which means that it takes much more stimulation - or food - to elicit feelings of reward. Similar responses are seen within breakfast-skippers.

Researchers tried to identify dietary behaviours that provide these feelings of reward, while reducing cravings for high-fat foods, to counteract tendencies to overeat and to prevent the weight gain that occurs as a result of overeating. Eating breakfast, particularly a breakfast high in protein, seems to do just that.

The bottom line

Nowadays people are skipping breakfast more frequently.  However, skipping breakfast is clearly associated with food cravings, which can lead to overeating and obesity. Taking just a few minutes to have breakfast, particularly one rich in protein, can not only make a real difference to your day, but also a real long-term difference to your waistline too!

You can learn more in our online Nutrition and Weight Management course

Written by Victoria Trowse


1. Hoertel, HA, Will, MJ and Leidy, HJ. (2014). A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls. Nutrition Journal, 13: 80.

2. Wang GJ, Volkow ND, Logan J, Pappas NR, Wong CT, Zhu W, Netusil N, Fowler JS (2001). Brain dopamine and obesity. Lancet 2001, 357: 354-357.

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