The practice of skipping breakfast is pretty common, and this is particularly true for adolescent girls.
In general, research suggests that skipping breakfast can be healthy and can even help to promote weight loss. You can see a more in-depth discussion on that topic in my article on breakfast skipping.
But, that doesn’t mean that skipping breakfast is healthy for every group of people.
Adolescent girls are still growing and going to school also requires a fair amount of energy and concentration.
Furthermore, adolescent girls often skip breakfast for unhealthy reasons, such as being excessively concerned about weight and choosing to eat as little as possible.
Yet, choosing to eat healthy food and eat regularly can be more effective for weight loss than skipping meals.
Additionally, there is a potential connections between protein and cravings, which may make breakfast very significant for overall health.
Indeed, skipping meals has the potential to lead to increased food cravings and increased eating later in the day. This varies considerably depending on the person and the situation, but it is a very important area to consider.
All of these factors suggest that having breakfast may be an important practice for adolescent girls.
One very recent research study looked the impacts of two different breakfast types for adolescent girls who typically skip breakfast.
The Study Itself
The study compared the outcomes of two types of breakfast, one high protein and one low protein.
The key outcomes that the authors considered were food cravings and the levels of plasma homovanillic acid (HVA).
HVA is significant, as this acts as an indication of the level of dopamine production.
The participants in this study were around 19 years of age, were overweight or obese and typically skipped breakfast.
In total, there were 16 girls in the study and there were three types of breakfast considered.
The first of these was breakfast skipping. This acted as a control, as the participants in the study typically skipped breakfast.
The second type of breakfast was low protein, where the participants had a breakfast containing 13 g of protein.
The final breakfast type was high protein. In this case, the calories of the breakfast were the same as in the low protein breakfast. However, in this case the breakfast contained 35 g of protein.
The authors used an unusual experimental design for this study.
Essentially, participants followed one diet for 6 days and the on the 7th day the outcomes were tested.
After that there was a washout period of at least 7 days (where the participants went back to breakfast skipping) before the next breakfast pattern was followed.
The authors found that both types of breakfast reduced cravings for sweet and for savory foods compared to breakfast skipping.
Of the two meal types, the high protein breakfast more significantly reduced savory cravings following a meal.
So, there was a relationship between protein and cravings , and also between the simple act of having breakfast and cravings.
Additionally, both meal types increased the concentration of HVA compared to breakfast skipping.
This outcome is significant, as a higher HVA concentration indicates a higher level of dopamine.
Some perspectives suggest that low dopamine levels can make it harder to follow a diet (1).
This happens because dopamine acts to trigger the reward centers in the brain.
When dopamine levels are low, people often end up craving food, as eating it tends to raise dopamine levels.
That increase in dopamine levels is one reason why people often end up breaking their diets and eating a lot of sugary or fatty foods.
Strengths and Limitations
This study was experimental, which is always a major strength.
With this design, the authors were able to see the impact of different breakfast types.
However, the particular experimental design is limited.
Essentially, the study involved participants following one diet then switching over time.
But, there is the potential for the order of events to influence the outcomes.
That issue is why randomized controlled studies are viewed as the ‘golden standard’ for research studies – and this particular study did not follow that standard.
More than anything, the study provides evidence that breakfast skipping may have negative implications for adolescents.
However, more research needs to be conducted before any conclusive results are known.
Another reason for this is the sample size.
In any study, the sample size determines how well the study can see effects that are present.
In this case, this study just had 16 participants.
That is a very low sample size for any study and it limits the conclusions that can be drawn.
There were also some issues with the sample itself.
Participants in the study were recruited through flyers, advertisements and parents.
This recruitment approach meant that the participants in the study were the ones who were interested in the overall topic.
This may mean that the participants in the study are more interested in weight loss or health than the general population.
Implications of the Study
The information on food cravings and HVA concentration both indicate that eating breakfast make adolescent girls less likely to crave food later in the day.
Food cravings can be very difficult to fight, so in many cases people will end up giving into those cravings.
If this happens, any advantages of skipping breakfast are lost.
This may be particularly true in this study, as the participants were overweight or obese.
This suggests that even though the participants typically skip breakfast this is not helping them to lose weight.
Additionally, the food cravings from skipping breakfast are likely to impair concentration in the school environment.
These outcomes indicate that skipping breakfast may be counterproductive for adolescent girls – or at least for adolescent girls who are overweight or obese.
Instead, the relationship between protein and cravings suggests that having a high protein breakfast can help to reduce cravings. Thankfully, there are many examples of interesting and appealing high protein breakfasts. For example, Paleo Hacks offers a list of 31 different protein-filled breakfasts, which also happen to be portable. Likewise, Yuri Elkaim has a list of 21 healthy high protein breakfasts.
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Do you think adolescents should be skipping breakfast, or is it still the most important meal of the day?