Credit your mom for being right—again. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that among the numerous benefits, breakfast eaters tend to be slimmer than morning-meal abstainers.
And if you’d like to lose weight, an extra dose of protein may help. A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of a high-protein breakfast on appetite control and evening snacking. When overweight college-age women ate a breakfast with 35 grams of protein—keep in mind that the average woman needs only 46 grams of protein in a day, the average man 56 grams—they felt fuller, experienced fewer cravings during the day, and didn’t snack as much on unhealthful foods in the evening compared with those who ate a lower-protein breakfast or skipped the morning meal.
“Eating protein alters brain signals that control hunger and satiety,” explains Heather Leidy, PhD, lead study author from the University of Missouri in Columbia. Protein may also reduce food cravings and motivational drive to eat, all of which lead to less evening snacking. Of course, packing 35 grams of protein into a morning meal is no small feat, which begs two important questions: do you really need that much protein to jump-start your day; and if so, how do you get it? Your health goals will largely determine the answer.
If weight loss doesn’t concern you, a breakfast with 7 to 15 grams of protein is perfectly fine, says Vandana Sheth, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a California-based dietitian who specializes in vegetarian eating. Yet if you want to slim down, “eating between 20 and 30 grams of protein at breakfast could help you feel fuller and make you more successful at losing weight,” she says.
“Vegetarians have many options in terms of where they get their protein,” says Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, cofounder of Appetite for Health and coauthor of The Real Skinny. But don’t overlook protein powerhouses such as beans and lentils, which can shake up your morning routine in a tasty way. Brooking recommends structuring your breakfast so you’re getting roughly 40 to 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 25 percent from protein, and the rest from healthful fats.
While carbohydrates provide energy for your brain and body, fats make food taste better and support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, she notes. To help you shape a protein-powered breakfast with minimal guesswork, below are nine satisfying recipes. Who knows? Breakfast may soon become your favorite meal of the day.