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Breakfast Habits Affect Teens’ Metabolic Responses to Protein-packed Morning Meals

Routine breakfast skippers should gradually increase protein intake in the morning

Feb. 25, 2015

Story Contact(s):
Jesslyn Chew, ChewJ@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Breakfast habits may play a role in how individuals metabolize high-protein breakfasts, according to a recently published University of Missouri study. An MU researcher compared young women who habitually skip breakfast to those who routinely eat breakfast and found that their metabolic responses to eating a high-protein breakfast were different. Specifically, the habitual breakfast skippers experienced poorer glucose control throughout the day when they consumed a high-protein breakfast, whereas those who typically ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast had improved glucose control after they ate a high-protein breakfast.

“Current scientific evidence shows that sustained elevations in post-meal glucose is a strong contributor of poor glycemic control and is associated with an increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications.” said Heather Leidy, an assistant professor in the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. “Because of the potential risk in the long term, identifying dietary strategies that individuals can begin when they are young to reduce post-meal elevations in glucose might prevent the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The researchers studied 35 overweight young women who habitually ate breakfast or habitually skipped breakfast. For the study, the habitual breakfast skippers ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast, a high-protein breakfast or continued to skip breakfast consecutively for three days. The habitual breakfast consumers ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast or a high-protein breakfast consecutively for four days. On the fourth day of each pattern, the researchers measured the subjects’ blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels throughout the day.

The researchers found the young women’s glucose responses to high-protein versus high-carbohydrate breakfasts were influenced by their typical breakfast habits. For habitual breakfast skippers, eating a high-protein breakfast led to elevated glucose levels throughout the day compared to skipping breakfast, whereas the standard, high-carbohydrate breakfast did not influence these responses. However, among those who routinely ate breakfast, the high-protein breakfasts led to reduced glucose levels throughout the day.

“These findings may indicate an increased inability among habitual breakfast skippers to metabolize a large quantity of protein,” Leidy said. “Unfortunately, we don’t yet know how long someone who has been skipping breakfast needs to continue eating breakfast to experience benefits. However, our data would suggest that once someone begins to eat breakfast, they should gradually transition to a breakfast with more protein – or about 30 grams – to elicit improvements in glycemic control.”

Leidy said young women should routinely aim for a 350-calorie breakfast with approximately 30 grams of protein. To meet the recommended 30 grams of protein, Leidy suggests foods such as scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos with eggs and lean meats, or Greek yogurt.

The study, “The effect of breakfast type and frequency of consumption on glycemic response in overweight/obese late adolescent girls,” was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Other University of Missouri co-authors include Ammar Alwattar and John Thyfault. The research was funded by the Beef Checkoff and the Egg Nutrition Center. The funders were not involved in the design, implementation, analysis or interpretation of data.

The American Society for Nutrition recently named Leidy the recipient of the 2015 Mead Johnson Nutrition Award, which is given to an investigator for a single outstanding piece of nutrition research or a series of papers in the same subject accomplished within 10 years of completing postgraduate training.

Faculty members in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology have appointments in MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, College of Human Environmental Sciences and School of Medicine.

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