A man cuts a slice of chicken near a soft-boiled egg, some bacon, and slices of tomatoShare on Pinterest
Foods high in protein include eggs and meat. Mattia/Stocksy United
  • Researchers say a breakfast with sufficient protein can help prevent overeating the rest of the day.
  • They said our bodies try to hit protein targets during the day, but other experts say there a number of reasons people overeat.
  • Foods rich in proteins include eggs, meat, beans, and dairy products.

Eating a high-protein breakfast may help you eat less throughout the day, according to researchers in Australia.

Much of the food we eat today is processed and refined and is typically low in protein. Our bodies compensate for this by eating excess food throughout the day to meet our protein and energy needs, the researchers wrote in their study.

The scientists analyzed the food intake, nutrition, and physical activity of 9,341 adults in Australia from May 2011 until June 2012. The median age of the participants was about 46 years.

Their average daily intake consisted of the following:

  • 18% protein
  • 43% carbohydrates
  • 31% percent fat
  • 2% percent fiber
  • 4% percent alcohol

The researchers reported that the participants who consumed low amounts of protein in their first meal of the day increased their food intake for the remainder of their meals.

Those who consumed the recommended amount of protein at their first meal of the day did not increase their food intake throughout the day.

The scientists noted that the participants with a low-protein first meal ate more energy-dense foods, such as saturated fats, sugars, and salt, during the day. They also ate less of the five food groups, including grains, vegetables/legumes, fruit, and dairy/meats.

Overall, those whose first meal contained little protein had poorer diet quality, the researchers said. Their protein energy decreased throughout the day even as their food intake increased – an effect the scientists called “protein dilution.”

The researchers said people consume foods to try to reach a protein target.

They said when people eat low-protein foods, they must eat more foods to reach their target. Proteins are our body’s building blocks in cells and are used to repair and make new cells.

The researchers estimated that more than 1 million forms of protein are needed to allow the human body to function correctly.

While protein is important, not everyone agrees that people are eating to reach an undefinable goal of getting enough protein.

“Some of the conclusions in this research and article are consistent with other findings, but to say people are eating more calories mainly out of protein needs is likely not the whole story,” said Liz Weinandy, RDN, a registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and instructor of practice in medical dietetics.

“It is well known that protein has a higher satiety factor than carbs and fats, but there are caveats to this principle,” she told Healthline. “There is also research that shows people who eat more highly processed foods, eat larger amounts of food, and more calories because of taste. That begs the question: are people eating more food to satisfy a protein need or is it because the food tastes good? Also, there are other reasons for overeating, like emotional eating and boredom. We like to simplify things and point to one or two reasons for overeating. In reality, there are multiple reasons.”

“The typical American diet is low in protein early in the day and highest at night,” says Anne Danahy, a registered dietician in Arizona and owner of Craving Something Healthy.

“Adding more protein at breakfast and lunch helps maintain muscle mass as you age,” she told Healthline. “More muscle mass helps maintain your metabolism, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight over time.”

Each person’s dietary needs are unique. However, there are some generalities that can help people plan their meals.

“General guidelines are 25 to 30 grams of protein at meals and 10 to 15 grams of protein at snacks,” says Megan Wroe, RD, a registered dietician and wellness manager at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in California.

“Most common breakfasts of cereal, toast, and oatmeal have less than 10 grams protein per serving, so unless someone is being proactive in reading labels or making modifications to the morning meal to add more protein, they are most definitely going to come in deficient in protein to start their day,” she told Healthline.

“Protein and fat are both satiating, so too little of either means your body will get hungry sooner,” Wroe continued. “There are, of course, other factors involved in overeating, so protein isn’t the one and only thing to look at, but I do agree that the hypothesis and this article are based on sound information.”

Good sources of protein include:

  • Meats
  • Milk and dairy
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Some grains, such as wheat germ and quinoa

“When making healthy changes in your diet, I recommend perfecting one meal at a time,” says Christian Torres, RD, a clinical and outpatient dietitian at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Southern California.

“For many, this starts with adding a well-balanced breakfast high in protein and fiber,” he told Healthline. “When implementing changes, most people report quick changes in their hunger levels and decision-making around food. After being consistent with dietary changes, they are more likely to see improvements in markers such as blood sugar, lipid profile, and weight.”

“Protein is one of the most filling macronutrients and many studies have shown that starting your day with a high-protein breakfast can help manage blood sugar, appetite, and cravings,” said Caroline Thomason, RD CDCES, a Virginia-based dietitian who helps women stop dieting and find confidence with food.

“Eating enough protein is one of my common recommendations to my clients,” Thomason told Healthline. “I recommend that people begin eating regular, balanced meals and snacks that include a source of protein at each. It doesn’t necessarily matter what time of day you take protein in but consuming enough earlier in the day helps with the downstream effect of managing appetite and cravings.”