Eating breakfast, particularly meals rich in protein, increases young adults' levels of a brain chemical associated with feelings of reward, which may reduce food cravings and overeating later in the day, research showed.

"Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast," said Heather Leidy, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at University of Missouri in US.

"However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savoury or high-fat foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day," Leidy added.

Understanding the brain chemical and its role in food cravings could lead to improvements in obesity prevention and treatment.

Leidy studied the effects of different breakfasts on participants' levels of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in moderating impulses and reward, including food cravings.

"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.

Participants in the study were young women with an average age of 19. However, Leidy said the findings may be generalized to a larger population of adults.

The study was published in the Nutrition Journal.

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