Centuries ago, a medieval philosopher, Maimonides (1135–1204), coined the saying “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.
To be honest, I never really liked that saying, but it does have some truth to it.
There’s evidence that eating breakfast promotes physical activity, resting energy expenditure, good behavior, mood (a decline in fatigue/dysphoria), cognitive function and performance and is negatively associated with abdominal obesity (R, R, R). That’s because, if you eat, you have more energy and if you don’t eat, you have less energy. People who do intermittent fasting/skip breakfast might think they’re more mentally sharp and feel more energetic, but actually they move less and are less active, thus expend less calories.
There are a few reasons why eating breakfast is inversely associated with obesity, and it’s a result of circadian regulation. Humans show faster gastric emptying, enhanced intestinal absorption, better insulin sensitivity, beta cell responsiveness and glucose tolerance, and an increased postprandial thermogenesis in the morning than in the afternoon/evening (R). There is a plethora of metabolic studies that support the notion of eating breakfast is preferable over eating dinner due to a phenomenon referred to as “evening diabetes” in which insulin sensitivity is higher early during the day, making it more likely to burn fat and stay lean and healthy.
Also, people who eat breakfast have greater satiety for the rest of the day and tend to eat less in subsequent meals and lose more weight. Whereas people who tend to skip breakfast are more prone to frequent snacking and consuming lots of empty calories. This is because cortisol is highest in the morning and glycogen stores are lowest. Low glycogen stores signal the body to release cortisol to increase the production of glucose.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and having it elevated for too long is detrimental to your health. Because of the negative result elevated cortisol has on the body, we automatically want to consume carbohydrate rich foods to lower it back down and to help us feel normal again (less tired, anxious, irritated, etc.). Those carbohydrate rich foods are usually going to be sugary foods that taste good. This is mainly because a big breakfast hasn’t been eaten and so frequent small snacks are required/desired during the day to try and fight the cortisol response. This in turn increases food and calorie consumption to a much larger degree which leads to weight gain.
While it is commonly assumed that most people eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a couple of snacks in between, the reality is quite different. Using a smartphone app, Gill and Panda revealed a frequent and erratic daily eating pattern of “healthy”, overweight American adults, with up to 11 eating events per day, 25% of intake occurring before noon, and 35% of intake occurring after 18:00 h (R). And then people wonder why they’re still overweight. Am I right?Eating a proper breakfast can prevent frequent snacking and overeating.
Skipping breakfast promotes insulin resistance and glucose intolerance caused by elevated free fatty acids (FFAs) and the inability of insulin to shut it down. The FFAs even stay elevated 5+ hours after the first meal is eaten, showing prolonged insulin resistance. Breakfast skipping also causes an increase in inflammatory potential, and this is not only because of an increase in the release of polyunsaturated fats from adipose tissue, but also because glycogen stores run too low, IL-6 (a highly inflammatory cytokine) becomes elevated to promote lipolysis (R, R).
Eating big breakfasts and small dinners promotes greater fat loss and improves insulin sensitivity and reductions in triglycerides compared to small breakfasts and big dinners (R).
Ok, so you get the picture. Breakfast is pretty important and pretty good for you. Let’s talk about what a good breakfast would look like. What is the perfect breakfast for satiety, boosting the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and increasing thermogenesis (diet induced termogenesis (DIT))?
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and also promotes the RMR and DIT.
Whey protein boosts DIT slightly more than casein protein, but casein protein is better for satiety than whey. Milk protein is 80% casein and 20% whey and should provide great satiety during the day. Interestingly, goat’s milk promotes greater satiety than cow’s milk and it’s also better tolerated by most people (R). Additionally, the calcium in the milk also improves insulin sensitivity, AMPK, uncoupling protein (UCP), thyroid function and will aid in fat loss (R). According to studies, people who drink more milk tend to be leaner than none milk drinkers.
Gelatin, an incomplete protein source, is about 40% more satiating than casein, soy and whey, yields about similar DIT and reduces subsequent food intake by 20% more than casein, soy or whey protein (R). Initially, food was thought to be satiating because of the tryptophan it contained (serotonin, which is made from tryptophan is thought to promote satiety). Gelatin contains no tryptophan and is equally as satiating as whey and casein. This is due to increasing glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and insulin, which is the actual satiating promoter.
Glycine, found in high concentrations in gelatin also stimulates dopamine release as well as GABA (through NMDA activation) and this promotes energy expenditure and satiation (R, R).
In this study (R) more was found to be better. When 25% of the calories in the diet came from gelatin it was shown to boost energy expenditure and decrease hunger and the desire to eat more than when only 10% of the calories came from gelatin. As 25% of your total daily calories is a pretty big dose and will be pretty expensive, I’d recommend starting with at least 15g of gelatin daily to reap its benefits.
Interestingly, DIT was 40% higher after a meal containing salmon and potato (high GI) compared to a meal with salmon and pasta (low GI). But that is not the interesting part. The interesting part is that the same effect was not found with a meal consisting of veal and potato or pasta. Protein from different fish sources has been shown to increase satiety and reduce ad libitum energy intake (EI) compared with animal proteins (beef, chicken, egg, or turkey).
And this effect is not due to the omega 3 if you were wondering, because combining omega 3 with starch/sucrose/glucose abrogates the “anti-inflammatory” and “anti-obesity” effect of fish oil (R). It’s something else, probably the low-molecular-weight peptides from the protein in the salmon that provides the thermogenic effect, and only when combined with a high GI carb source (R).
On to carbs. A good protein source is the base for a good breakfast, but carbs are also equally important. Cortisol is highest in the morning and glycogen stores the lowest, so eating a bunch of carbs will be the best approach.
But consuming the right kind of carbs is most important. The wrong kind of carbs can spike your insulin and cause subsequent hypoglycemia and increased hunger.
The right kind of carbs, and this is mostly high GI, will promote satiety and DIT to a greater extent than low GI. The trick would be to find which carbs work best for you. Cereals are not that great for satiation. Potato, rice and pasta provide equal satiation, but potato seems to postpone hunger more than rice or pasta (R).
Satiation correlates with blood glucose, insulin and GLP-1. As long as you consume a hefty amount of carbs, it doesn’t really matter where you get it from (as long as it’s a clean source).
If you are prone to getting hypoglycemia from high GI carbs, try lower GI foods like fruit. Fruit digest slowly and will provide you with sustained energy. Fructose is also able to restore DIT caused by insulin resistance. And not a whole bunch of fructose is required for this, just about 5-10g per meal. That’s equivalent to about 1 cup of orange or apple juice.
If you think fruit is not as satiating as starches or other carbs, think again. Glucose and sucrose are shown t be equally satiating (R). Plus, if it’s in the form of whole fruits, the satiation effect will be even more pronounced, because of slower digestion and absorption.
Combining your protein source with carbs is also necessary for DIT. The increase in DIT from a high protein high carb diet is 14.6+/-2.9%, compared to only 10% on a high protein, high fat diet. This increase in DIT correlates nicely with satiety as the higher DIT group also experienced greater satiety (R).
Lastly, fats. The kind of fat you use with your breakfast also plays a great role in satiety, thermogenesis and subsequent fat loss.
Medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil) promotes a greater increase in RMR, DIT and satiety than longer chain fats.
Also, there appear to be no difference in satiety and DIT when the fat source is rich in poly-, monounsaturated- or saturated fat in lean individuals. But we aught to know by now that eating high PUFA foods will have a great negative effect on your health and should be avoided.
Conversely to lean individuals, overweight/obese individuals experience an increase in DIT, energy expenditure and fat oxidation when a high monounsaturated fat source is used compared to a saturated fat source.
A high MUFA meal (olive oil) significantly lowered the postprandial carbohydrate oxidation rate and increased fat oxidation compared to a meal rich in saturated fat (from cream) (R). This should be taken with caution as obese people already have an increase in baseline lipolysis (but blunted adrenergic stimulated lipolysis) as well as fat oxidation, so more fat oxidation might just indicate impaired glucose oxidation (which the study also found) and insulin resistance. Keep in mind that increased fat oxidation does not mean fat loss. They just burned more fat at the expense of glucose. Unless the metabolic rate is stimulated and more fat is burned together with glucose, it can be seen as a good thing. However, that was not the case here. Also, a high oleic acid diet could promote (inappropriate) lipolysis after some time, to such a degree that it will cause adipose and liver dysfunction (liver steatosis).
Overall it might be a better idea to have a low fat breakfast in the first place. High protein and carbs should take preference and the little bit of fat in the meal should preferably be from a saturated fat source (MCT oil is a good idea). This is because a high fat breakfast, not only stimulates DIT subpar to carbs, but also impairs the ghrelin (hunger hormone) response and this may contribute to reduced satiety and overeating, especially amongst obese individuals (R).
Furthermore, omega 6 rich oils/food sources should be avoided, as high linoleic acid intake promotes ghrelin (promotes hunger) and resistin (promote insulin resistance) (R).
Some more tips for promoting satiety at breakfast.
- Aerated foods, such as whipped cream, carbonated drinks, etc., promote greater satiety compared to more solid foods.
- Adding chili to your breakfast can promote DIT. Chili works synergistically with protein, fiber, caffeine, green tea extract and MCT oil to promote DIT (R).
- Cocoa increases UCP (heat production), reduces fatty acid synthase, promotes lipolysis and fat oxidation (not at the expense of glucose oxidation) and stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis. All of which promote fat loss and metabolic health (R, R, R).
- Mild, but chronic, hypohydration is correlated with increased body weight and its attendant dysfunctions. The common denominator likely is angiotensin II (AngII), the principal hormone of body fluid regulation (R). Hypohydration has been shown to lead to hyperglycemia. This produced the hypothesis that increased hydration leads to an increase in cell volume which in turn leads to increased insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, the renin aldosterone angiotensin system (RAAS) has also been linked with mitochondrial dysfunction, and treatments with RAAS antagonists improve mitochondrial function. Fruit and milk contain abundant amounts of water and is a great way to stay hydrated and keep RAAS in check. Glycine, creatine and betaine are all great osmolytes and should help keep cells hydrated and RAAS low.
Recipe examples of a good breakfast
- 300-500ml Skim/low fat milk
- 1-2 ripe bananas
- 200g pineapple
- 1tbsp cocoa
- 1tsp MCT oil
- 1 scoop casein or 2 raw eggs and ½ scoop casein
- 1-2tbsp hydrolyzed gelatin
- 150-200g 93%< ground lean beef/turkey bacon
- ½ cup fried mushrooms
- Chili (pieces or Tabasco or other chili sauce) – optional
- 400-500g boiled and mashed potato
- 1 fried egg (in half a teaspoon of coconut, MCT or olive oil)
- 100g oats flour
- 1 ripe mashed banana
- 1 – 2 eggs
- a bit of low fat/skimmed milk
- with fresh berries and 1 teaspoon of raw honey/coconut flour sugar for topping
- 1 cup coffee with whipped cream and/or
- 1 cup orange/apple juice