Do sweets at breakfast help with weight loss?

weight loss aid?

“Chocolate cake for breakfast can help you lose weight” screams the Daily Telegraph headline.  Perhaps it should have ended with a question mark.  I have to admit, I have not read the full official research report, just the abstract, which doesn’t mention chocolate cake at all.  But the description at least hints that chocolate cake might have been present.

Here are the details.  The 32 week study was intended to look at the effect of two different breakfasts on several aspects of weight loss: weight, hunger, levels of ghrelin (a hunger hormone), satiety, insulin, glucose, food cravings and lipids.  Almost 200 obese subjects were put on calorie-controlled weight loss diets — 1600/day for men and 1400/day for the women.  They were divided into 2 groups.  One group ate a 600 calorie high carb and protein breakfast; the other ate a 300 calorie low carb breakfast.  According to the Telegraph report, that high carb/protein breakfast included a piece of chocolate cake.

After 16 weeks, subjects in both groups had lost an average of 33 lbs each.  By 32 weeks, the subjects in the low carb breakfast group has regained almost 22 lbs, while the high carb/protein breakfast group continued losing weight, another 15 lbs on average.  Now that’s an argument for sweets!  Or is it?

Professor Daniela Jakubowicz, who has written books promoting big breakfasts for weight loss, argues that a big breakfast in the morning is essential, since metabolism is highest then.  She also points out that while the hunger hormone ghrelin increases before all meals, breakfast is the meal that most effectively turns it off, helping to suppress hunger all day long.  People who eat a small low carb breakfast don’t get much ghrelin-suppressing effect, and reportedly experienced more cravings for sugar and carbs.  And hunger, cravings and lack of satisfaction are the enemy of long-term weight loss success.

One concern I have is that the groups didn’t eat the same size breakfast.  Clearly eating more calories in the morning would help suppress hunger and cravings, whatever form they were.  It’s not clear chocolate cake is an essential part of the mix, or just a way to boost the calories in this study.  If the total breakfast was 600 calories, that piece of chocolate cake definitely wasn’t very big.  Finally, despite the headline, the breakfast was not just chocolate cake.  It contained high protein foods.  This study doesn’t justify 100% sugary breakfasts, loaded with simple carbs.  Not in my opinion.  It’s more like an argument for eating a decent sized breakfast, and 600 calories is reasonable, especially for men.  For women, 400-500 is a reasonable goal at breakfast.

Here are some ideas for breakfast that range from 500-600 calories, depending on actual portions:

  1. 2 eggs, 2 pieces of whole grain toast, juice or fresh fruit and a bit of jelly on the toast
  2. 1 cup non-fat Greek style yoghurt sweetened with honey, with added fruit and a piece of toast
  3. 3/4 cup granola with milk, fresh fruit, juice
  4. toasted whole bagel with a very thin spread of cream cheese, 2 thin slices of smoked lox and juice
  5. breakfast burrito with scrambled egg, salsa, 1 oz grated cheese, potatoes and refried beans

And what about chocolate cake?  If you limited yourself to a sliver (about 1/16th of a cake) you could have that along with a glass of low fat milk.  But I wouldn’t recommend that for everyday.  You’d eventually get bored with chocolate cake.

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