High-Protein Breakfast Helps Blood Sugar Control

High-Protein Breakfast Helps Blood Sugar Control

Just 1.5 oz of morning protein stopped sugar spikes; Blood-sugar control reduces diabetes risk

Diabetes is a scourge associated with sedentary lifestyles and modern diets.

The standard American diet – high in refined flours, sugar, and cheap oils, high in omega-6 fats (corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed) – is a prime diabetes-promoter. This crippling metabolic disease begins with “insulin resistance”, in which the body’s cells can’t use insulin effectively to absorb sugar from the blood … which therefore keeps on circulating in it.

Insulin resistance often leads to pre-diabetes – a condition in which blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Diabetes most often afflicts overweight people, but can develop in people who are not technically overweight but have excess abdominal fat.

This is because fat cells in the belly produce hormones and similar substances that can cause insulin resistance and damage blood vessels. Although chronically elevated blood sugar levels are not proven to cause diabetes, they promote insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.

Research in recent years validates the weight-control claims made for diets relatively high in protein and low in refined carbohydrates (sugars, white bread, potatoes, pasta, and pastries).

And new research suggests that high-protein breakfasts help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day … a very good thing.

High-protein breakfasts helped women control blood sugar

The new clinical trial was co-led by Heather Leidy, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri and Kevin Maki of Biofortis Clinical Research (Leidy HJ et al. 2014).

Their results show that when women consumed high-protein breakfasts, they maintained better glucose and insulin control than they did with lower-protein or no-protein meals.

As Leidy said, “For women, eating more protein in the morning can beneficially affect their glucose and insulin levels. If you control your glucose levels, you may be protecting yourself from developing diabetes in the future.”

They recruited healthy, non-diabetic women aged 18-55 years with normal blood sugar levels, and assigned them to eat one of three different meals (or only water) on four consecutive days.

All of the test meals had less than 300 calories per serving and similar fat and fiber contents, but provided different amounts of protein:

• Pancake meal providing 3 grams of protein
• Sausage and egg breakfast providing 30 grams of protein
• Sausage and egg breakfast providing 39 grams of protein.

The researchers monitored the amount of glucose and insulin in the participants’ blood for four hours after they ate breakfast. 

“Both protein-rich breakfasts led to lower spikes in glucose and insulin after meals compared to the low-protein, high-carb breakfast,” Maki said (UM 2014). Critically, the higher-protein breakfast containing 39 grams of protein led to lower post-meal sugar spikes, compared to the breakfast with 30 grams of protein. These findings suggest that, for healthy women, the consumption of protein-rich breakfasts leads to better glucose control throughout the morning, versus low-protein options. 

“Since most American women consume only about 10-15 grams of protein during breakfast, the 30-39 grams might seem like a challenging dietary change,” Leidy said (UM 2014).

However, 30 to 39 grams translates to just 1 to 1.5 ounces of protein … a target easily reached by eating high-protein foods. Rather than the eggs and meat sausage used in the trial, it makes sense to favor protein foods that promote healthy metabolism and are less likely to promote weight gain and belly fat.

As it happens, seafood fits that prescription to at “T”.

For example, see “Omega-3s Deter Diabetes Signs in Clinical Trial”, “Omega-3s Linked to Healthier Weight and Body Composition”, “Weight Loss Efforts Aided by Omega-3s”, and “Omega-3s Boost Weight Loss Benefits of Low-Cal Diets”. Conversely, foods high in omega-6 fats promote weight gain. These include bacon or sausage made from pork or poultry and standard eggs. See “Omega-6 Fats Drive Obesity; Omega-3s Help”, and “Weight Gain and Omega-6 Fats”. (For more on this crucial but under-recognized health issue, see “America’s Sickening Omega Imbalance” and “Using Our Omega 3/6 Balance Scores”, which presents a chart that categorizes foods by their balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.) In addition to traditional breakfast seafood like lox and other smoked fish, grocers increasingly offer fish-based alternatives to standard bacon and sausage. Eggs are generally healthful, and egg breakfasts appear to aid weight control (Vanderwal JS et al. 2008). Just be sure to choose ones labeled as being high in omega-3 DHA, which results from adding fish meal or oil to hens’ feed.

Since the study only included non-diabetic women with good blood sugar control, Leidy said their study provides a good model to examine the effect of higher-protein breakfasts on blood sugar and insulin responses to meals. Based on the study’s findings, Leidy hopes that protein-rich breakfasts can benefit people with pre-diabetes, although more research is needed to confirm that.

The study was funded by Hillshire Brands (formerly Sara Lee), a maker of sausage, cold cuts, and desserts.

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• Leidy HJ et al. Acute Effects of Higher Protein, Sausage and Egg-based Convenience Breakfast Meals on Postprandial Glucose Homeostasis in Healthy, Premenopausal Women. April 2014 The FASEB Journal vol. 28 no. 1 Supplement 381.6. Accessed at here
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• University of Missouri (UM). Consuming High-Protein Breakfasts Helps Women Maintain Glucose Control, MU Study Finds. April 29, 2014. Accessed at here 
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