You occasionally get dessert with dinner -- and once in a blue moon, you might splurge on a sweet with lunch (Hey, it was 90 degrees out! Ice cream was practically a necessity.) But if you're trying to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, do you ever have a dessert course with your breakfast? Probably not.
Meet some scientists who think you should start: Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University's Wolfson Medical Center and colleagues found that non-diabetic obese adults who were interested in weight loss were able to reduce their weights and their cravings if they ate a breakfast full of carbs, protein and ... dessert.
Yup, dessert. Participants in the study who ate a big breakfast that included a sweet course lost more weight, kept more weight off, reported feeling less hungry for the rest of the day and had fewer cravings.
"The goal of a weight loss diet should be not only weight reduction but also reduction of hunger and cravings, thus helping prevent weight regain," said Jakubowicz in a statement.
The study, which was presented at the Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston, involved 193 men and women who were already obese but were not diabetic. The researchers split them into two groups: while all of the men ate a 1,600 calorie diet and all of the women ate a 1,400 calorie one, one group ate 300 calories for breakfast, 500 for lunch and 600 for dinner, while the other had the reverse, 600-500-300 calorie pattern. Those who ate the 300 calorie breakfast had 10 grams of carbohydrate and 30 grams of protein. The second group ate a 600 calorie breakfast with 45 grams of protein and 60 grams of carbs -- and that included a small portion of sweets: chocolate, a doughnut, a cookie or cake.
Those in the dessert breakfast group ate 20 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, nearly 50 percent from protein and about 30 percent from fat, according to a report of the study. By contrast, the low-carb breakfast group ate about 11 to 13 percent of calories from carbohydrates and 44 to 52 percent protein and 38-43.5 percent for fat.
After four months, members of both groups had lost an average 30 to 33 pounds per person. But in the following four months (the study's "maintenance period"), the low-carb group had regained 22 pounds, while the dessert group continued to lose weight, on average 15 pounds -- a significant difference.
While it's possible that eating dessert with breakfast leads to sustained weight loss, even Jakubowicz acknowledges that it could be a difference in the nutrient breakdown, suggesting that the protein-to-carb ratio increased feelings of satiety. Although, she added, the touch of dessert could have been responsible for the decrease in cravings for sweet, starchy and fatty items throughout the day.
And, indeed, the dessert breakfast group had a significantly larger reduction in levels of the hormone associated with triggering hunger: while high-calorie breakfast eaters had 45.2 percent less ghrelin, the low-calorie breakfast group had only 29.5 percent less ghrelin in a series of blood tests.
Still, the study shouldn't be the impetus for trading in a healthful first meal for doughnuts and muffins -- the key to success was a combination of protein, fats and carbs in addition to something sweet. And despite the success of the study's participants, many nutritionists were skeptical that the study's results could translate well to the real world. "Desserts are often also trigger foods for many of my clients and if they have one dessert, they want another," Lisa Young, an NYU professor of nutrition and HuffPost contributor told HuffPost Healthy Living. "I do not think it sends out a good message for dieters who often have difficulty with portion control, especially for desserts."
"A combination of protein and carbohydrates may have kept these study volunteers satisfied, but you have to pay attention to the quality of foods you're eating, too," clinical nutritionist Lauren Graf of New York City's Montefiore Medical Center agreed in an article in HealthDay. "You don't want to encourage people to eat a lot of foods with trans fats, like doughnuts, cookies and cakes."
Prior to the study's presentation at the meeting in Houston, it was published in March in the journal Steroids.