Starting your morning with a high-protein food and a "dessert" - such as a doughnut or a slice of cake - may help you lose weight and keep it off, a new study suggests.
However, several nutritionists said they weren't ready yet to embrace the study's conclusions.
When researchers from Tel Aviv University's Wolfson Medical Center in Israel compared two diet regimens - one featuring a low-carbohydrate breakfast, the other a high-protein, high-carb breakfast - the sweets-with-breakfast group lost more weight after eight months.
"Although dietary restriction often results in initial weight loss, the majority of obese dieters fail to maintain their reduced weight," wrote the study's authors.
Diet-related weight loss often triggers hunger and cravings while decreasing suppression of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, the researchers said. This may encourage weight gain. But, "a high protein and carbohydrate breakfast may overcome these compensatory changes and prevent obesity relapse," they concluded.
But at least two US nutrition experts question the wisdom of encouraging regular consumption of sweet, kilojoule-dense, low-nutrition foods.
"A combination of protein and carbohydrates may have kept these study volunteers satisfied, but you have to pay attention to the quality of foods you're eating, too," said clinical nutritionist Lauren Graf at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. "You don't want to encourage people to eat a lot of foods with trans fats, like doughnuts, cookies and cakes." Trans fats, which are partially hydrogenated oils found in baked goods and other products, can raise blood cholesterol levels.
Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., also expressed concerns.
"When you look at what people are eating for breakfast, it's things like chocolate-covered honey-dipped cereals. Isn't this the same as dessert?" Heller said. "So many people are eating dessert for breakfast already, which is helping to contribute to weight gain, not loss."
Refined carbohydrates and sugary treats cause a roller-coaster effect on blood sugar, insulin, energy, appetite and fatigue, Heller added. "Over time, this increases the risk of certain chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes," she said.
How the study was done
The study included 193 obese men and women who lived sedentary lifestyles, but didn't have type 2 diabetes. The average body mass index was 32.2. A measurement of 30 is considered obese, while below 25 is considered normal weight. The average age was 47.
The study volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two groups, each allowing men 1,600 calories daily and women 1,400 calories a day. One group got a high-protein, high-carb breakfast, while the other group was put on a low-carb diet that included a 304-calorie breakfast, with only 10 grams of carbohydrates and 30 grams of protein. (A small apple contains 14 grams of carbohydrates).
The dessert-with-breakfast group was allowed 600 calories at breakfast -- almost twice as many calories -- including 60 grams of carbohydrates and 45 grams of protein. Types of protein included tuna, egg whites, cheese and low-fat milk. This group ate fewer calories at lunch and dinner than the low-carb group.
After four months, volunteers in both groups lost about 33 pounds each. Over the next four months, however, dieters eating low-carbohydrate breakfasts regained 22 pounds on average. But, those who'd had dessert with breakfast continued to lose weight, averaging another 15-pound weight loss, according to the study.
The researchers speculated that dieters who had sweets with breakfast had lower levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so they weren't as hungry and were less likely to crave the foods they'd eaten earlier in the day.
Heller suspects that eating a healthy form of protein at each meal and snack likely helped these dieters feel full and keep their blood sugar levels on an even keel.
Graf said the study shows that a strict low-carbohydrate diet isn't necessarily the best long-term approach to weight loss. "If you love sweets, maybe having them once or twice a week is OK, though I don't recommend processed foods," she added.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Kickstart your day with breakfast
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advice on healthy eating for a healthy weight.
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