Trying to lose weight but cannot resist that evening dessert? A new study released in Steroids (1) suggests that having your sweet treat with breakfast may help you lose weight.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? A research group in Israel says otherwise. Jakubowicz et al. (1) randomized 193 clinically obese adults without diabetes into two groups: both consumed a low carb lunch and dinner, but one group consumed a low-calorie (300 kcal), low-carb breakfast; the other got a high-calorie (600 kcal), high-carb, high protein breakfast that included a dessert item (chocolate cake, cookies, cake, ice cream, chocolate mousse or donuts). Both groups were instructed to consume the same number of calories per day (1600 kcal for men, 1400 kcal for women). Participants were followed for 32 weeks – body weight, blood samples and dietary intake (via checklist) were assessed every 4 weeks.
What did they find?
- Both groups lost an average of ~ 14 kg (33 lbs) per person at 16-weeks (15 – 17% weight loss)
- The low-carb breakfast group participants regained an average of 10 kg (22 lbs) between week 16 and week 32 (reducing total weight loss to 4%)
- The high-carb breakfast group participants lost an additional 6.8 kg (15 lbs) by week 32 (total weight loss of 23%)
- Ghrelin levels (a hunger-stimulating hormone) were reduced after breakfast by 45.2% and 29.5% following the high-carb and low-carb breakfast groups, respectively. This difference was statistically significant.
- Satiety was significantly improved and hunger and craving scores were significantly reduced in the high-carb breakfast group vs. the low-carb group.
The researchers suggest that eating cookies or chocolate as part of a breakfast that includes proteins and carbs may help curb cravings for sweets later. They theorize that morning is the best time to consume sweets because that’s when your metabolism is most active.
Our big critique with the study is that they don’t tell us how many calories that “dessert” provided or what the breakfast items were – a balanced breakfast with a 50 kcal piece of cake is pretty different than half of the calories coming from the sweet treat!
One of my favourite breakfasts is steel cut oatmeal with milk, blueberries and walnuts and a hard-boiled egg on the side – this adds up to 480 calories*, which doesn’t leave much room for dessert (only a measly 50 g piece of unfrosted chocolate cake)! Interestingly, my favourite breakfast has an almost identical carb and fat composition to the study meal, but contains less than half the protein (20 g protein vs. 45 g protein used in the study). That’s a lot of protein at breakfast (45 g protein is equivalent to a 5 oz chicken breast or 7 eggs).
Another concern is, of course, the quality of self-reported food intake data. Both groups saw a dietitian for meal plan “tweaking” every 4 weeks for the first 16 weeks, and then were left to self-monitor their intake for the remaining 16 weeks. But this is a concern with ALL diet studies – most people are more successful with self-monitoring when they are checking in with someone – and still doesn’t explain why the dessert-at-breakfast group continued to lose weight while the other group regained. So maybe there is something to this plan…
No Baloney’s advice? You can try having cake or cookies with breakfast… but we’re not completely convinced that the dessert was the reason for the benefits. The research team even states in the conclusions…
“A high carbohydrate and protein breakfast may prevent weight regain by reducing diet-induced compensatory changes in hunger, cravings and ghrelin suppression.”
We’re inclined to believe that the positive response to the high-calorie, high-carb, high-protein breakfast has less to do with dessert and more to do with simply including some carbs at breakfast and being less restrictive. Recent research supports the notion that weight loss really is just a matter of calories in vs. calories out; breakdown of carbs, fat and protein don’t seem to matter… BUT clinical experience tells us that clients are more likely to be successful if they are eating a sustainable and enjoyable meal plan that gives them some “cheating” flexibility, which could account for the differences in weight loss/regain after 16 weeks. Sad and hungry is never a recipe for lasting success!
As for future directions, we would have loved to see the study include a high-carb isocaloric, balanced breakfast to compare with the dessert-at-breakfast group or an assessment of the effect of moving the treat to later in the day – does timing matter or is it being allowed some flexibility that counts?
Regardless of dessert, the study group definitely seems to follow the plan of eating breakfast like a king (600 kcal), lunch like prince (500 – 600 kcal) and dinner like a pauper (300 – 400 kcal), which is the complete opposite of most people’s typical eating pattern and is something I often recommend to clients looking to lose weight. The study is interesting in that it adds to the evidence that the old cliche is true – breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
So, if you do decide to try having dessert with breakfast make sure that you are eliminating those calories somewhere else in your day. Watch the portion size and check the ingredient list, particularly with commercial baked goods, as they may still contain trans fat. The proof will be in the pudding… err, we mean cake!
(1). Jakubowicz D, Froy O, Wainstein J, Boaz M. Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Steroids 2011 [epub ahead of print].
* Data from the Canadian Nutrient File, v. 2010. Based on 1/4 cup steel cut oats (dry), 1/2 cup 2% milk, 1 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup walnuts, 1 large, whole egg, boiled.