We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal, but what does that mean when it comes to how our brains function throughout the day? Jane Reagan, a registered dietitian at Wardenburg Health Services, offers tips on how eating breakfast can improve brain function and shares a few breakfast recipes to try.
How does eating breakfast affect learning and memory?
Cognitive function and memory improve as a result of people having breakfast. Studies have shown that when people eat breakfast, things like concentration, memory, and energy all improve, making them more alert as well.
The reason that food makes a difference is that when someone hasn’t eaten all night, they’ve fasted for 10-12 hours and they typically have lower blood sugar levels. Eating first thing in the morning raises blood sugar levels and keeps it steady, which can improve mood and help people have more energy.
What kind of food do you recommend people start their days off with?
It’s important, whenever possible, that breakfast includes adequate fiber, a fruit or vegetable, calcium, protein and a whole grain. Having a balance by getting all of these nutrients is really going to make people feel better.
Protein is part of so many different processes in our bodies; it’s part of every enzyme, it’s part of every hormone, you help build muscle with protein and so making sure that that is part of breakfast is important. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters in our brains that help us feel more alert, happy and relaxed. So protein is definitely a must-have component.
Having a carbohydrate source, such as whole grain cereals, oatmeal, cream of wheat or whole grain bread that has more fiber in it is also important and helps sustain energy for longer periods of time. Jane says that fiber is really important because it also keeps blood sugar steady and helps keep people fuller longer.
Vitamin Bs and Cs are great to include in breakfast because they play a part in building neurotransmitters in our brains and can be found in grains and fruits. Choline, which helps with the creation of memory cells, is another nutrient that can be included in breakfast, and can be found in egg yolks.
Easy breakfast recipes
Breakfast No. 1:
½ whole grain bagel or gluten free bagel Protein: 15 g
1 Tbsp. All natural peanut or other nut butter Fat: 10g
Sat Fat: 3 g
1 cup of blueberries and sliced strawberries Carbohydrate: 74 g
6 oz. of reduced-fat vanilla yogurt or coconut yogurt Fiber: 8.5 g
Calcium: 274 mg
Breakfast No. 2:
Egg Sandwich: Protein: 29 g
1 poached egg Fat: 13 g
1 slice low-fat cheddar cheese Sat Fat: 4 g
1 slice turkey or ham (2 oz.) Carbohydrate: 56 g
1 whole wheat English Muffin Fiber: 8 g
Calcium: 202 mg
1 banana on the side
Breakfast No. 3:
¾ cup steel cut oats Protein: 29 g
½ cup 2% milk or almond milk Fat: 14 g
1 Tbsp. slivered almonds or walnuts Sat Fat: 2.7 g
1 tsp brown sugar Carbohydrate: 65 g
Fiber: 11.4 g
1 apple Calcium: 226 mg
2 vegetarian sausage patties
Breakfast No. 4:
Fruit Smoothie: Protein: 20 g
1 cup organic vanilla soymilk Fat: 9 g
1 cup frozen mixed berries Sat Fat: 1 g
1 banana, sliced Carbohydrate: 67 g
1 Tbsp. whey or vegan protein powder Fiber: 16 g
1 Tbsp. chia or flax seeds (ground) Calcium: 398 mg
½ cup ice cubes
1 tsp honey (optional)
Blend until smooth and enjoy!
About the Expert
Reagan studied for her RDN at the University of Northern Colorado and received her Masters in Counseling from Boston University. Her favorite thing about working at Wardenburg is getting the chance to do what she loves and feels passionate about. She loves helping students better understand the relationship between the food they eat and the way they feel physically, mentally and emotionally. The students she works with inspire her daily with their life stories, struggles and accomplishments.
Wardenburg Health Services offers nutrition counseling services as well as free consultations at the Nutrition Resource Clinic. Find more information online at: http://www.colorado.edu/health/nutrition.