Whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day is debatable, but what isn’t, is the fact that brains function better when they’re fed.While any food might be better than none at all, there are certain foods that can enhance mental performance and cognitive function. In honor of going back to school, here are the nutrients that will give your brain the best possible start to the day.
PROTEINNeurotransmitters are chemicals in our brains that affect the way we think and feel. What we eat plays a large role in how our bodies make these chemicals. Ever eaten a large bowl of pasta and immediately felt happy and content, but soon after felt sluggish and in need of a nap? Carbohydrates increase our brain’s level of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel positive, relaxed, and helping to initiate sleep. Protein, on the other hand, increases levels of dopamine and noradrenaline, which help us feel alert and energized. Unfortunately, many traditional breakfast foods are heavy on the carbs and not much else. To make sure you’re getting plenty of energizing neurotransmitters, aim to eat about .5g of protein for every pound of body weight throughout the day, and at least a quarter of those grams at breakfast. For a 100-pound child, this would be about 10-12 grams of protein.
FATFat - saturated to be exact - is one of the main components of brain cells, and the brain itself is composed of 60% fat. We need fat to help absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which have been shown influence cognitive function. Vitamin D status, in particular, has been associated with positive mood. Dietary fat also helps keep our blood sugar stable by slowing how fast sugar enters our bloodstream. If you’ve ever experienced the emotional face-plant that accompanies low blood sugar (otherwise known as “hanger”), you know blood sugar is closely tied to brain function. Like hunger, hormones play a major role in our mental and emotional state – as any tween can attest – and we need fat to make hormones.
WHAT NOT TO EATIf fat and protein promote stable, focused brain function, some foods promote just the opposite. The three main offenders are sugar, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners. Both caffeine and sugar found in simple carbohydrates including white bread, soda, fruit juice, pastries, jellies, and syrups, can cause radical highs and lows in your blood sugar, leaving you grumpy, foggy headed, and tired. Additionally, caffeine has been shown to suppress serotonin in animal studies. This could result in feelings of negativity, obsessiveness, worry, irritability, and sleeplessness. Artificial sweeteners can be just as bad (if not worse) than regular sugar. Some research shows that they may alter our gut bacteria, which can lead to changes in mood and overall mental health.
7 EASY BREAKFAST HACKSWe know not everyone is going to sit down to a plate of pastured bacon and eggs every morning. Unfortunately, most grab-n-go breakfast foods are low in protein and fat, and high in sugar. Here are seven easy ways you can hack your current breakfast (or lack thereof) to make sure you get these brain-boosting nutrients.
- Egg muffins
- Add whole milk to your cereal
- Swap jelly for nut butter
- Swap regular bread for sprouted bread
- Add an egg to your toast
- Add an egg to your oats
- Choose a full-fat yogurt.
- Wallababy Organic
- Green Valley Organics
- Straus Creamery
- Redwood Hill Farm
- Horizon Organic
- Try a bar
- Rise Bar
- Good OnYa Bar
- NuGo Organic
- Carve Bar
- Kind Strong Bar or Kind + Protein
- Epic Bars
Know anyone who could use some breakfast inspiration? Share this with them! What's your breakfast routine? Any other early morning hacks or meal on-the-go options? We'd love to hear in the comments!