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Breakfast Boosts Reward Chemical in Teen Brains

Update Date: Oct 15, 2014 04:32 PM EDT

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, according to a new brain study.

New research reveals that eating breakfast boosts levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. This is important because dopamine is associated with feelings of reward and reductions in food cravings and overeating.

"Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast," researcher Heather Leidy, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, said in a news release. "However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory - or high-fat - foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day."

Eating triggers a release of dopamine, which stimulates feelings of food reward. Researchers note that the reward hormone is important for regulating food intake.

"Dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese, which means that it takes much more stimulation - or food - to elicit feelings of reward; we saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers," Leidy said. "To counteract the tendencies to overeat and to prevent weight gain that occurs as a result of overeating, we tried to identify dietary behaviors that provide these feelings of reward while reducing cravings for high-fat foods. Eating breakfast, particularly a breakfast high in protein, seems to do that."

"In the U.S., people are skipping breakfast more frequently, which is associated with food cravings, overeating and obesity," Leidy said. "It used to be that nearly 100 percent of American adults, kids and teens were eating breakfast, but over the last 50 years, we have seen a decrease in eating frequency and an increase in obesity."

The findings were published in the Nutrition Journal.

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