By Dr. Kristie Persons

Do you get food cravings and feel famished just a few hours after you take that last delicious bite of a meal?  If that’s the case, it’s time to take a closer look at the composition of your diet and what’s on your plate.  If it’s mostly carbohydrates your plate may benefit from more protein.

Why protein?  Adding protein to a meal increases satiety and is satisfying in a way that leads to less calorie consumption later in the day, according to a study.  Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), protein is the most satiating, meaning it fills you up and keeps you feeling full longer.

If you’re trying to lose weight, start early and add protein to your morning meal.  Some research shows eating breakfast increases feelings of fullness and reduces intake later in the day in overweight women.  However, protein works for satiety at other meals too.  Research shows that increasing the protein content of meals–as opposed to either fats or carbohydrates–reduces calorie consumption during subsequent meals.  Moreover, protein produces the greatest reduction in calories consumed.

Breakfast or Not?
Studies are conflicting as to whether eating breakfast is helpful for weight control or whether skipping breakfast and the calories it contains is more beneficial.  However, several studies show eating breakfast is better for your waistline than not eating breakfast at all, and having a morning meal may reduce calorie consumption later in the day.

In fact, a study found that breakfast eaters ate less at dinner, while those who skipped breakfast consumed an extra 250 calories–for a total day’s intake of 500 calories.  When people skip meals, they tend to overeat later on–decreasing the amount of energy available to burn, and that can lead to weight gain.

Choose the Content of Your Meals Wisely
If you eat breakfast, choose wisely.  Start the day off right with a protein-rich breakfast rather than an ultra-processed meal, like a bagel, or worse a trip through the drive-thru for coffee and coffee cake.  A tasty option is eggs or yogurt and some fruit instead of that bagel.  Eating a breakfast high in protein and low in processed carbohydrates will also give you more sustainable energy throughout the day by stabilizing your blood sugar level.  Skip the sugar in your coffee too!

When you consume meals high in protein and low in carbohydrates, particularly processed ones, your pancreas produces less insulin in response to that meal and your insulin level doesn’t rise as much.  That matters!  As long as insulin is hanging out in your system, it’s harder for your body to break down fat and easier to store it.  So, those insulin surges after a meal of processed carbohydrates can end up on your waistline.

Another Dietary Component to Reduce Your Appetite
Protein has met its match with another dietary component, fiber.  To further maximize how full you feel after a meal, add more fiber to your plate.  Fiber in food helps you feel full and is linked with reduced calorie intake.  Studies also show that people who eat a lot of fiber tend to have higher levels of good bacteria in their gut, which makes them feel less hungry.

Which foods should you choose?  The most common sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, seeds and whole grains.  You’ll be doing your body a favor if you do.  Most people only get about half the recommended amount of fiber in their diet, 38 grams for men daily and 25 grams for women.

Adding fiber to you diet has a number of benefits beyond satiety.  Doing so may lower the risk of developing a coronary heart disease and support healthy digestion.  You can find fiber in a variety of foods including whole grains, fruit and vegetables.  It’s best to gradually add more fiber to your diet since increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating.

The Bottom Line
The breakfast debate is still on.  It’s not clear whether eating breakfast helps with weight control or not, but if you eat breakfast, make sure it’s high in protein and fiber.  These are the two dietary components that keep you feeling full and getting both is better, so plan your meals accordingly.

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