The importance of breakfast to fuel our brains + healthy tips for busy mornings
We all know that foggy feeling of cotton balls filling up our brain when we realize it’s 10:30 AM and we haven’t eaten anything yet. The importance of breakfast has been extensively studied in school children; tasks requiring attention, memory and executive function (like reasoning, planning and problem-solving) all suffer when children skip their morning meal.1 Although grown-ups haven’t been as rigorously investigated, we can expect the same link between breakfast and adult performance in life and the workplace. Kids are just like mini-adults, after all!
So why do 40% of Canadians skip what is arguably the most important meal of the day? Some say they’re short on time, others say they simply aren’t hungry.2 Either scenario can be worked around. As the blissfully unscheduled summer days wind down, let’s look to September and the return to our regular routine with the intention of being among the 60% of Canadians who are (presumably) sharper, more reasonable and more productive.
Start with good carbs
After a long fast, your blood sugar (glucose) is at rock bottom. And guess what? Except during prolonged starvation, glucose is the brain’s only fuel source3 – so feed your decision-maker with a dose of healthy carbohydrates.
Opt for whole grains, which offer more nutrients, fibre and satiety than refined grains. This could be whole-grain toast, steel-cut or large-flake oats or a whole-wheat wrap or English muffin. Feeling adventurous? Experiment with whole grains like millet, cornmeal, quinoa, brown rice or barley. Treat them as a breakfast porridge with a splash of milk, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup, or go savoury with sprouts, nuts and avocado. Cook a big batch of grains on the weekend and all you’ll have to do is warm up a serving in the morning.
Add some protein and/or healthy fats
Carbohydrates will give you energy, but protein and fat have staying power that prevents a blood sugar spike (and subsequent crash). A steady flow of energy is the goal, so top your toast with mashed avocado, nut butter, or an egg to keep you going until noon. Full-fat yogurt, cheese, nuts and ham are also good choices. In a hurry? Keep a stash of muffin-tin mini quiches in the freezer to eliminate the effort of even cracking a shell.
Make it super
Breakfast is the one meal that tends to be eaten more out of duty and nutrition than pleasure, so make it count. Elevate breakfast to superhero status by incorporating superfoods like berries, salmon (smoked is a great breakfast option) or canned sardines (for omega-3 fats), dark leafy greens, flax seeds, probiotics (for gut and immune health), hemp or chia seeds. Smoothies and porridge bowls are perfect blank canvases for infinite nutritious blend-ins and toppings.
Part of the 40% lacking time and/or appetite?
Make your meal fast and small. Not feeling inspired? Here are a few options: a single slice of whole grain bread folded in half with peanut butter. A bran muffin from the freezer paired with a bag of almonds stashed in your purse. A few slices of salmon jerky and a granola bar you can munch on at your desk. A cheese string to eat with some rye crackers.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate to have the engine-revving, cobweb-clearing effect you’re looking for. All you have to do is commit to eating in the morning and enter the week armed with a plan and a stockpile of easy-to-grab, ready-to-eat options.