A nutritional study from Missouri brings good news to women who turn to certain kinds of pre-made breakfast meals for convenience in the morning. Women who whip up their own sausage and egg breakfasts will like this, too. The study finds that a breakfast high in protein will fend off the dangerous spikes in glucose and insulin that often lead to diabetes.

The body must convert the foods we eat into glucose, a form of sugar which fuels the body on a cellular level. Glucose is the only form of sugar that fuels the body. Glucose levels climb after a meal as food digests and gets converted to glucose. When glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin, which carries energizing glucose to every cell in the body.

A meal (or snacks) loaded with sugar or high in simple carbohydrates (breads, muffins, cookies, cake, chips, fries, etc.) is quickly converted into glucose, flooding the bloodstream with more glucose than the insulin can transport. The spike in glucose after a sweet or carb-laden meal causes a spike in insulin.

Meals high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber take longer to digest. Longer digestion supplies a small, steady stream of glucose into the bloodstream. Insulin production responds accordingly. The pancreas only produces a small, steady stream of insulin to transport glucose energy in a healthy, manageable manner.

These spikes are undesirable in some ways and dangerous in others. The sudden spike of glucose is energizing (a sugar high) but only for a short while. After the insulin spike clears the overabundance of glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells, fatigue and hunger set in. We get tired, sometimes grouchy, and ravenously hungry for more. Healthier food choices — high protein, healthy fats, fiber — keep us feeling full longer and our energy level rises and stays high for an extended length of time.

On a more serious note, the glucose / insulin spikes disrupt the harmonious balance of the two substances. The harder insulin has to work, the less effectively it gets the job done. Eventually, more glucose builds up in the bloodstream than insulin can process and a pre-diabetic state sets in. Metabolic syndrome may develop and it may progress to diabetes.

Dietary changes can help keep the glucose / insulin levels in balance. One way to maintain beneficial blood sugar levels is by enjoying a protein-rich breakfast, according to Heather Leidy, the assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri who led the study.

Leidy recruited women age 18 to 55 to have one of four breakfasts every morning for four days. All meals contained fewer than 300 calories and their fat and fiber contents were similar. The most important difference was the protein content of each meal:

  • Water only
  • Pancakes with 3 grams of protein
  • Sausage and egg breakfast skillet with 30 grams protein
  • Sausage and egg breakfast skillet with 39 grams protein

Glucose and insulin levels in each woman, monitored for four hours after each breakfast, revealed:

  • Spikes were highest after the pancakes
  • Spikes were lower in the lower-protein sausage-and-egg breakfast
  • Spikes were minimal in the higher-protein breakfast

Leidy says “most American women consume only about 10-15 grams of protein during breakfast” but should strive for 30-39 grams.

Source: Chew, Jesslyn. “Consuming High-Protein Breakfasts Helps Women Maintain Glucose Control, MU Study Finds.”  News Bureau / University of Missouri. Curators of the University of Missouri. Apr 29, 2014. Web. Jun 3, 2014.