Published: Sept. 20, 2017

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, spoke to us about how eating breakfast can improve brain function and gave us a few breakfast recipes to try. 

How does eating breakfast affect learning and memory?

When people get up in the morning, they’ve fasted for 10-12 hours, so they will have lower levels of blood sugar. Eating first thing in the morning raises blood sugar levels and keeps it steady, which can improve mood and help us have more energy throughout the day.

In addition to raising blood sugar levels, having breakfast can improve cognitive function and memory. Studies have shown that when people eat breakfast, things like concentration, memory and energy all improve, making them more alert as well.

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 going to make people feel better.

Protein in particular is important because it is part of so many different processes in our bodies. Protein is part of every enzyme and hormone, and we use it to help build muscle, so making sure it is part of breakfast is important. Proteins are also made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters in our brains that help us feel more alert, happy and relaxed.

Having carbohydrates, such as whole grain cereals, oatmeal, cream of wheat or whole grain bread that has more fiber in it is also important and helps us sustain energy for longer periods of time. Fiber also keeps blood sugar steady and helps keep us feeling fuller for longer.

Vitamins B and C are great to include in breakfast because they play a part in building neurotransmitters in our brains; these vitamins are 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.

Do you have a few easy recipes that students can try?

Breakfast No. 1

Bagel with fruit and yogurt

  • Half of a whole grain or gluten free bagel
  • 1 tbsp. all-natural peanut or other nut butter
  • 1 cup of blueberries and sliced strawberries
  • 6 oz. of reduced-fat vanilla yogurt or coconut yogurt

Nutrition information

  • Protein: 15 g
  • Fat: 10g
  • Sat Fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrate: 74 g
  • Fiber: 8.5 g
  • Calcium: 274 mg

Breakfast No. 2

Egg sandwich with banana

  • 1 poached egg
  • 1 slice low-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 slice turkey or ham (2 oz.)
  • 1 whole wheat English muffin
  • 1 banana on the side

Nutrition information

  • Protein: 29 g
  • Fat: 13 g
  • Sat Fat: 4 g
  • Carbohydrate: 56 g
  • Fiber: 8 g
  • Calcium: 202 mg

Breakfast No. 3

Oatmeal with vegetarian sausage

  • ¾ cup steel cut oats
  • ½ cup 2% milk or almond milk
  • 1 tbsp. slivered almonds or walnuts
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 apple
  • 2 vegetarian sausage patties

Nutrition information

  • Protein: 29 g
  • Fat: 14 g
  • Sat Fat: 2.7 g
  • Carbohydrate: 65 g                
  • Fiber: 11.4 g
  • Calcium: 226 mg                    

Breakfast No. 4

Fruit smoothie
Blend until smooth and enjoy!  

  • 1 cup organic vanilla soymilk
  • 1 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. whey or vegan protein powder
  • 1 tbsp. chia or flax seeds (ground)
  • ½ cup ice cubes                                                                      
  • 1 tsp. honey (optional)

Nutrition information

  • Protein: 20 g
  • Fat: 9 g
  • Sat Fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrate: 67 g
  • Fiber: 16 g
  • Calcium: 398 mg                                            

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.