Private Grants & Contracts Funding | Nutrition & Health
Missouri | University of Missouri Agriculture Experiment Station | North Central Region
Eating breakfast increases levels of a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward, which may reduce overeating.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many people skip breakfast, which increases their likelihood of overeating and eventual weight gain. Statistics show that the number of adolescents and adults struggling with obesity, which elevates the risk for chronic health problems, has quadrupled in the past three decades.
University of Missouri researchers have found that eating breakfast, particularly meals rich in protein, increases young adults' levels of a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward, which may reduce food cravings and overeating later in the day. Understanding the brain chemical and its role in food cravings could lead to improvements in obesity prevention and treatment. The research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast. However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory - or high-fat - foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day. The research studied the effects of different breakfasts on participants' levels of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in moderating impulses and reward, including food cravings. Dopamine levels were determined by measuring homovanillic acid (HVA), the main dopamine metabolite. Eating initiates a release of dopamine, which stimulates feelings of food reward. The reward response is an important part of eating because it helps to regulate food intake. Dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese, which means that it takes much more stimulation - or food - to elicit feelings of reward; we saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers. To counteract the tendencies to overeat and to prevent weight gain that occurs as a result of overeating, the team tried to identify dietary behaviors that provide these feelings of reward while reducing cravings for high-fat foods. Eating breakfast, particularly a breakfast high in protein, seems to do that.