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Choosing a protein-rich breakfast could help curb food cravings, according to a new study from the University of Missouri.

The research team enlisted 20 overweight or obese young women and assigned them one of three breakfast options: a 350-calorie bowl of cereal, a 350-calorie protein-rich meal, or nothing at all. The results were surprising: Those who ate the high-protein breakfast reduced nighttime snacking more than those who ate cereal or skipped breakfast.

The high-protein meal appeared to increase a feeling of fullness, reduce hunger later in the day, and curtail brain signals that control food cravings, says Heather Leidy, PhD, assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. “And it significantly reduced unhealthy evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods.”

The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, incorporated lean beef and eggs. Leidy also recommends choosing from Greek yogurt, lean meat including poultry, or a healthy meat substitute (such as tempeh), and nuts to meet a morning serving of 30 to 35 grams of protein. Protein contents vary, so plan your meal accordingly: Two eggs provide 12 grams of protein, for example, while two turkey sausage links have about 15 grams, and a typical 6-ounce serving of Greek yogurt has an impressive 15 to 20 grams.

If you really want to maximize your morning routine for weight loss, consider eating breakfast after exercising. According to a report in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Northumbria University in the U.K. found that study participants burned 20 percent more body fat when they exercised on an empty stomach. In addition, the elevated morning activity didn’t increase their hunger later in the day.

This article originally appeared as “Your First Meal” in the November 2013 issue of Experience Life.

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