We’ve all done it from time to time: skipping breakfast in a rush to get out the door – or grabbing a bagel, muffin or cereal bar for a quick bite. But for women, missing out on protein in the morning could significantly affect their health in the long term.
That’s because protein plays a crucial role for women – both for everyday physical and mental health, as well as in regulating the hormones that control monthly menstrual cycles.
It’s important to understand why protein is so important to a woman’s overall health, as well as the nutritional profiles of the breakfast foods that are a part of your everyday diet.
Protein keeps hunger in check
Think of some common breakfast foods, like cereal, muffins and bagels. While they may be quick and convenient, they are often lacking in protein – which means you’ll often be hungry well before lunch time.
That’s because eating protein leads to a greater sensation of fullness compared to carbohydrates and fat. Feeling fuller longer allows you to avoid mid-morning energy crashes, and can keep you from snacking throughout the day. One study found people who ate a higher protein breakfast ended up eating fewer calories at lunchtime. Including protein at every meal can help prevent overeating and support a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for women to prevent chronic illnesses. According to the National Cancer Society, excess body weight is linked to 11% of cancers in women versus 5% of cancers in men in the U.S. Eating protein can also help support a woman through the fatigue that comes with the different parts of a woman's menstrual cycle, as well as perimenopause and menopause.
How protein supports whole-body health
As a nutrient, protein supports some critical functions to the body’s physical health: it plays a role in helping to form strong bones and supports muscle growth and repair.
Women are particularly susceptible to weaker bones as they age, which could eventually lead to osteoporosis. This is because women often have smaller frames, and often have less dense bones than men. In adults aged 65 and older, 27.1% of women have osteoporosis, when compared to 5.7% of men. However, building strong bones starts well before then: bones continually repair and rebuild until a person reaches their mid-30s, when bone loss starts to outpace bone repair.
Additionally, eating protein-heavy breakfasts can help women maintain their muscle mass and strength, especially during aging.
The hormone regulation connection
Eating breakfast and eating healthy protein plays an important role in helping women regulate their hormones.
For example, skipping breakfast was connected to higher incidences of troubles or worries with menstruation, as well as higher rates of dysmenorrhea, according to a study of Japanese college women. Evidence also supports that skipping breakfast can also result in higher levels of stress hormone in women.
Healthy sources of protein often contain healthy fats. In general, fats help the body maintain their sex hormones and absorb vitamins. For women, consuming healthy sources of fats can help them maintain their menstrual cycles. There are strong connections between a woman’s menstrual cycle and protein oxidation, as proteins play a role in making the female sex hormones that peak during different phases of the cycle.
Learning more about dietary protein
Working to incorporate more healthy protein into your diet doesn’t mean you have to stop eating the breakfast cereals or bagels that you love. But by adding protein into your breakfast routine, you’ll feel more satisfied with your meal; and will help you to make it to lunchtime without the mid-morning energy crash.
For sedentary adults, the recommended daily allowance for protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram, or 0.36 grams per pound, of body weight. This is about 48 grams of protein a day for the average women, and is 10% of your daily calorie intake. However, many studies suggest this recommendation may be outdated, as it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick – and for women, especially active women, protein needs may be much higher. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may also need additional protein in their diet.
Adding protein to your morning routine is a good way to get a jump-start on your protein goals for the day. Here are some nutrition facts on grams of protein in some common breakfast foods, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
- 1 egg: 6.24 grams of protein
- 4 ounces plain, whole milk Greek yogurt: 8.78 grams of protein
- 2/3 cup steel cut oats: 12.5 grams of protein
- 1 slice whole wheat bread: 3.95 grams of protein
- 1 cup of 2% milk: 8.23 grams of protein
Some people cannot tolerate high levels of protein, including individuals who have kidney disease. Talk with your doctor about your health, your medications and any conditions you may be managing before making any significant changes to your diet.