A recently published article by Baum et al. in the Journal of Nutrition explored the relationship between high-carbohydrate diets and high-protein diets in normal weight and overweight/obese teens age 8-12 years. They looked at a number of variables after the breakfast was consumed, including energy expenditure, blood sugar levels, level of satiety (appetite), and amount of food consumption at lunch 4 hours later.
Results of the study concluded that the high-protein breakfast increased perceived satiety or “fullness” for longer, while also stabilizing blood sugar levels over the following 4-hour period. Furthermore, it was discovered that the overweight and obese teens experienced a greater level of energy expenditure after eating a high-protein breakfast, than did normal weight teens who ate either a protein-dense or carbohydrate-dense breakfast.
The “take home points” of this study suggest that while everyone has been told repeatedly that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this actually has very significant implications on the health of our youth as they develop into healthy adults. Childhood obesity is on the rise and data suggests that obesity rates increase with each age group. If high-protein breakfasts can extend levels of satiety, increase caloric expenditure, and balance blood sugar levels, this may be a powerful solution to the obesity epidemic we are facing.
It is also known across the medical fields that obesity often overlaps with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke – all of which are related to modifiable, or preventable, health behaviors (i.e. poor nutrition, insufficient physical activity, chronic stress, and strained sleep). So while it may be a bit presumptuous to say that eating a high-protein breakfast can in-and-of-itself prevent all that, it absolutely may be a step in the right direction.
It’s great to know the effects of a protein-dense breakfast in teens, but the larger issue is in making that brand of breakfast accessible to them in the first place. Teens are heavily burdened with school schedules and work loads that make time a precious commodity. That combined with relatively low income and often a lack of support and understanding from parents about teen nutritional needs, creates a massive obstacle to mount. Naturopathic Physicians face these dilemmas as an opportunity to “meet the patient where they’re at” – how do we help you over the wall, rather than trying to forcefully demolish it or ignoring it completely and walking in an easier direction? For teens, it’s not impossible to make regular, nutrient-dense breakfasts a reality. It’s about finding ways to pre-prep high-protein snacks that can easily be grabbed and shoved in a backpack while they’re running out the door. I discuss this more in one of my other posts.
If we can make these simple changes – recognizing the nutritional needs and challenges of our youth, supporting youth and parental education, and prescribing “doable” solutions – we may be able to change the futures of our youth today.
For more detailed information on this study, please refer to my full review, published in the peer-reviewed Natural Medicine Journal – the official journal of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians:
Baum JI, Gray M, Binns A. Breakfasts higher in protein increase postprandial energy expenditure, increase fat oxidation, and reduce hunger in overweight children from 8 to 12 years of age [published online ahead of print August 12, 2015]. J Nutr. doi:10.3945/jn.115.214551.
Health, United States, 2014: With Special Features on Adults Aged 55-64. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2015.