Good news for the kid in you: Not only can you eat cake for breakfast, doing so may actually help you keep weight off, a new study suggests.
In the study, obese participants who ate a breakfast high in protein and carbohydrates that included a dessert were better able to stick to their diet and keep the pounds off longer than participants who ate a low-carb, low-calorie breakfast that did not include sweets.
The findings suggest that both meal timing and meal composition play a role in weight loss. Carbs and protein eaten at breakfast may keep us full throughout the day, plus allowing ourselves some sweets helps to stem cravings for these foods, said study researcher Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, of Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Nutritionists said they have mixed feelings about the study. Some say dessert for breakfast is a diet no-no, and could actually increase your cravings for sweets.
"I would never, in a million years, recommend cookies or cake for breakfast," said Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and author of "Diet Simple" (LifeLine Press, 2011), who was not involved in the study.
Others said eating something sweet at breakfast is all right, as long as it's part of a healthy diet.
But the experts agreed, a large, balanced breakfast can help maintain weight loss. A substantial breakfast can suppress your hunger cravings and make you less likely to gorge the rest of the day.
"The last thing you want to do is get to an evening meal, and be starving," said Heather Mangieri, a nutrition consultant and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "That's the time that so many people overeat."
Cake for breakfast
The study involved 193 obese adults, half of whom were randomly assigned to eat a large, 600-calorie breakfast that included a "dessert" item, such as a cookie, cake or donut. The other half ate a small, 300- calorie breakfast. Both groups consumed the same total daily calories — 1,600 calories for men and 1,400 for women. (The group with a big breakfast ate a smaller dinner, of 300 or 400 calories.)
After 16 weeks of strictly following this diet, both groups had lost about the same amount of weight. However, during a follow-up period in which participants were advised to stick to the diet, but could eat more if they were motivated by hunger cravings, the small breakfast group gained 24 pounds, while the big breakfast group lost 15 pounds, on average.
In addition, those who ate the big breakfast with the dessert had lower levels of the "hunger" hormone ghrelin, and fewer food cravings than those who ate the small breakfast, without dessert.
When we diet, we're hungrier, ghrelin levels rise and there's a decrease in our metabolism. A large breakfast that includes protein, carbs and sweets may counteract these changes, so people are able to maintain weight loss over time, Jakubowicz told MyHealthNewsDaly.
Too good to be true?
While the study shows the benefits of a big breakfast, it cannot answer the question of whether eating cake in the morning is a good idea, Tallmadge said.
"It's completely unfair to compare a 600-calorie breakfast with 300-calorie breakfast," Tallmadge said.
In addition, Tallmadge said, in her experience, eating sugar can increase cravings for sweets. It's better to go with a balanced, healthy breakfast — such as oatmeal, skim milk and fruit — that contains about one- third of your daily calories, she said.
But the study demonstrated the importance of incorporating your favorite foods into your diet without over-indulging, Mangieri said. "We know that deprivation does not work," she said.
Keep in mind, however, that recent research shows "eating refined flour and sugar on a regular basis is one of the worse things you can do for your health," Tallmadge said. It's associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and early death, she said.
The study is published in the March issue of the journal Steroids.
Pass it on: A big breakfast can ward off hunger later, but any sweets you eat should be consumed in moderation.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.