3 Best Breakfast Foods to Boost Your Brain, According to Science
You already know you should be eating breakfast each day—and that doesn’t mean ordering an oat milk latte and calling it good. Hear us out: Putting actual food into your body every morning is not only about refueling your energy tank. Eating a high-quality, nutrient-filled breakfast will actually help you perform better at work (and at play) and boost your overall brain health, according to research. "Emphasis on the words 'high quality' and 'nutrient-filled' is key," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, author of The Family Immunity Cookbook.
For instance, an April 2021 study posted in the journal Nutrients determined that adolescents who ate a nutritious breakfast had higher cognitive performance at school compared with those who didn’t. A small 2016 study in Neuroscience & Medicine showed that specific areas of the brain experienced significantly higher activation when young adult participants consumed a nutritionally-balanced breakfast over a sugar-filled one. And a 2019 study published in Journal of Psychophysiology concluded that skipping breakfast can negatively have an effect on short-term cognition, specifically disturbing the attentional process (i.e. one's ability to pay attention).
If that isn’t convincing enough, take it from a registered dietitian: Amidor says eating breakfast daily should be “top priority.” (Not to mention the fact that eating breakfast can enhance your mood and emotional well-being, too.)
While there is no official time you should eat breakfast, Amidor recommends eating within an hour or so of waking up, even if it’s just something small—like a yogurt with fruit or a slice of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter. “You don’t want a complicated breakfast, but it should include several food groups with nutritious foods,” she adds.
Keep in mind, however, that eating for optimal brain health and cognitive function isn’t simply related to your morning meal. “It will always be more about the total sample of what you eat and drink in a day, in a week and so on, versus any single food,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, author of The MIND Diet.
That said, there are some breakfast foods that are better than others when it comes to specifically boosting cognitive function and overall brain health. Read on for two dietitians’ top recommendations for brain-friendly breakfast foods.
Crave smoked salmon when you wake up? Ooh, you fancy-like. But you’re in luck—this fish offers tons of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA, says Amidor. Salmon is an excellent breakfast choice specifically because DHA makes up a significant portion of fat in your brain, so it’s critical for brain development, she adds. Research shows that DHA, either alone or combined with EPA, contributes to expanded memory function in older adults. Amidor recommends topping a slice of seedless rye bread with whipped cream cheese and an ounce of smoked salmon and sliced vegetables, or incorporating smoked salmon and veggies into an omelet. You can additionally try smoked salmon on a mushroom bagel or Better Bagel, or add it to a salad for the best at-home brunch.
Speaking of omelets… as it turns out, the humble egg is one of the best brain-friendly foods, too. “Easy to cook yet making everything more decadent, an egg contains each choline and lutein, two vital nutrients that help the brain develop in our early years, then protect it against cognitive decline in mid-life,” says Moon, citing a 2018 review of egg benefits posted in Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Learn seven ways to eat eggs without scrambling. Don’t feel like dirtying a pan? Pop premade egg bites like Appleton’s Market Power Veggie Bites into the microwave for the subsequent best option. Eggs are so nutritious, this dietitian actually refers to them as nature's multivitamin:
We get it—another dietitian recommending oatmeal for breakfast doesn’t come as a big surprise. There’s a reason that oats are so popular among nutrition experts, though: As a whole grain, they’ve been linked to elevated cognitive functioning such as higher reading comprehension and verbal fluency. Moon says she prefers steel-cut oats, which are closer to the whole-food form of oats and offer a pleasantly chewy texture.
In a rush in the morning? Try a packaged, protein-rich oatmeal (without all the added sugar) like Mush or Oats Overnight.
Originally published: Well+Good