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A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls

Heather A Hoertel1, Matthew J Will2 and Heather J Leidy1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology, School of Medicine, 207 Gwynn Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA

2 Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2014, 13:80  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-80

Published: 6 August 2014



This pilot study examined whether the addition of a normal protein (NP) vs. high protein (HP) breakfast leads to alterations in food cravings and plasma homovanillic acid (HVA), which is an index of central dopamine production, in overweight/obese ‘breakfast skipping’ late-adolescent young women.


A randomized crossover design was incorporated in which 20 girls (age 19 ± 1 y; BMI 28.6 ± 0.7 kg/m2) consumed 350 kcal NP (13 g protein) breakfast meals, 350 kcal HP (35 g protein) breakfast meals, or continued breakfast skipping (BS) for 6 consecutive days/pattern. On day 7 of each pattern, a 4 h testing day was completed including the consumption of breakfast (or no breakfast) followed by food craving questionnaires and blood sampling for HVA concentrations throughout the morning.


Both breakfast meals reduced post-meal cravings for sweet and savory foods and increased HVA concentrations vs. BS (all, p < 0.05). Between breakfast meals, the HP breakfast tended to elicit greater reductions in post-meal savory cravings vs. NP (p = 0.08) and tended to elicit sustained increases in HVA concentrations prior to lunch vs. NP (p = 0.09). Lastly, HVA concentrations were positively correlated with the protein content at breakfast (r: 0.340; p < 0.03).


Collectively, these findings suggest that the addition of breakfast reduces post-meal food cravings and increases homovanillic acid concentrations in overweight/obese young people with higher protein versions eliciting greater responses.

High protein breakfast; Food reward; Food cravings; Homovanillic acid; Dopamine