Should your first meal of the day be protein-rich or carbohydrate-abundant? Whatever you do, make sure you do not miss this important meal.

Eggs, amaranth Dalia (porridge), sprouts, yogurt — starting the day with a high-power protein breakfast can help you lose weight and provide the required energy to perk you up after a night’s rest. “Studies have shown that people who eat a high-protein breakfast consume up to 26% fewer calories at the next meal. They also experience greater satiety, have less food motivation (craving), and better diet quality,” says Adarsh C.K., assistant professor in the department of gastroenterology at St John’s Medical College Hospital in Bangalore.

For Bangalore-based Swathi Seshadri, the area coordinator for a non-governmental organization, breakfast is a bowl of wheat muesli with nuts along with toned milk (15g protein) and a late morning snack of fruits. “I travel a lot around the city and muesli keeps me going till late morning; the fruit is followed by lunch, and then straight to dinner,” says the 38-year-old.

Seshadri does not feel hungry until lunch because the muesli and milk meal has adequate protein content. Vasundhara Agrawal, a Bangalore-based diet and lifestyle consultant, explains: “Daily consumption of a protein-rich breakfast reduces ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and significantly reduces mid-meal snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods through the day.”

A study of overweight adolescent girls in the US over a seven-day period, in which some of them skipped breakfast and some consumed the same number of calories but with different protein content (13g and 35g), found that the high-protein breakfast reduced evening snacking and daily hunger by altering the neural and hormonal signals that controlled food intake. The study was published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition last year.

A high-protein breakfast also helps maintain glucose levels. A study, published in the FASEB Journal in April, found that women who consumed a high-protein breakfast (30g and 39g) had 10–14% lower glucose levels 4 hours later than those who consumed a low-protein breakfast (3g).

Dr. Adarsh says: “A high-protein breakfast keeps one alert and active and is a good start for a workday. High-protein foods (dairy products, nuts, beans, tofu, and meat) have tyrosine, an amino acid that improves alertness, whereas high-carbohydrate foods (sweet or starchy foods like rice, white bread, and sweets) release serotonin, a chemical that makes us drowsy. So a high-protein meal is better suited for the morning and a carbohydrate-rich meal for later in the day.

“It is recommended that the average person consume one gram protein per kilogram body weight per day. So, a person weighing 60kg should have 60g of protein per day. In growing children, this is a little higher. In a day, the total dietary protein should be 10–15% of total calorific requirement, and a third of that should be consumed at breakfast. The average Indian breakfast comprising idli or dosa or paratha or poha contains 12–20g protein,” says Dr. Adarsh.

But not all dietitians and experts agree that a large chunk of the daily protein requirement should be consumed at breakfast. Anupama Menon, a Bangalore-based dietitian, believes that ideally, one should have carbohydrates in the morning to provide the pick-me-up that the body needs. “Yes, we do need to have some protein in the morning as our muscles are starved of it after a long night’s rest. But since our activity level is high in the mornings and our body tends to burn more calories, a carbohydrate-based meal is better.”

Harsha Jayaram, a 40-year-old business development director in a Mumbai-based multinational, begins his day with fruits and milk, followed by a traditional breakfast like dosa, idli, or poha. Menon says: “This is a good breakfast meal. It’s good to get the sugar kicked in first thing in the morning and follow it with a balanced meal of carbohydrates and proteins like idli/dosa.”

Agrawal agrees only partly: “Complex carbohydrates such as cereals and whole grains are the main energy-giving foods. In case of inadequate consumption of cereals in the diet, proteins will be utilized for the purpose of providing energy instead of their intended role of tissue repair and muscle building. Hence, breakfast can be complete only if complex carbohydrates are paired with protein to have a varied nutrient intake.”

Is there a danger in consuming too much protein? Dr. Adarsh says: “Protein gets converted into fat when more than the daily requisite amount is consumed. Patients with kidney disease should avoid high-protein food, as it can result in high levels of calcium oxalate, leading to kidney stones.”

Adds Menon: “It’s rare to achieve even 20g of protein with an average Indian breakfast as the meal tends to be vegetarian. Consume a balanced meal of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats; each has its own functions and one cannot replace the other. Stick to the required amount of protein in a day and do not overload protein at any one meal.”


Vasundhara Agrawal, diet and lifestyle consultant, Bangalore gives some breakfast ideas that keep the meal math in control —

  • 250ml of toned milk with breakfast cereal topped with walnuts (approximately 340 kcal energy and 14g protein)
  • Wheat ‘dalia’ with added nuts and honey (approximately 360 kcal energy and 14g protein)
  • Wholewheat bread, plus sprout salad with added nuts, plus a bowl of yogurt or a glass of buttermilk (approximately 440 kcal energy and 22g protein)
  • One glass of eggnog, plus wholewheat bread with peanut butter (approximately 440 kcal energy and 23g protein)
  • Scrambled egg plus vegetable sandwich (with a little amount of butter and vegetables like cucumber), plus a glass of toned milk (approximately 390 kcal energy and 21g protein).

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