Does every morning start like a scene out of Zombieland—and you’re the zombie? Skipping breakfast may be to blame. A review of 134 breakfast studies conducted by the University of Leeds in the UK found that your memory, problem-solving skills, verbal fluency, and several other measures of cognitive ability all suffer when you miss the most important meal of the day.
New research provides a road map that can help you get the most from your breakfast and your brain every morning.
Eat like a cow. Verbal reasoning and problem-solving ability improved roughly 35 percent among those who practiced grazing, or dividing breakfast into four smaller meals spaced an hour apart, finds a study from Cardiff University in the UK. Spreading out your meals gives your brain a more consistent supply of energy in the form of blood glucose, the study explains.
The best breakfast nut. People who ate a small handful of polyphenol-rich walnuts every day improved working memory 19 percent, finds Spanish research. Polyphenols have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, which may help improve communication among your brain’s neurons, the study hypothesizes.
Walk your brain awake. Just 20 minutes of walking improves your “cognitive flexibility”—your brain’s ability to produce a flow of ideas and answers when presented with a problem—by 16 percent, says a study from the University of Illinois. The researchers attribute the brain benefits to improved cerebral blood flow and increased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Protein power. Eating a protein-rich breakfast resulted in a nearly 20 percent boost in brain activity compared to either no breakfast or a breakfast high in sugar, Japanese research shows. That’s because protein, unlike sugar, provides your brain with a consistent energy source, the study says. Eggs are a great source of hunger-quelling protein, not to mention a lot of other good stuff.
A better source of caffeine. A recent study from the University of Bristol in the UK found that just 20 to 30 milligrams (mg) of caffeine boosts brainpower—regardless of how alert the subjects felt. That’s about 100 mg less than your average cup of coffee. Higher doses didn’t provide any additional brain boost. So have a small amount of dark chocolate in the morning. Research has shown dark chocolate improves blood flow and cholesterol levels, and may even help you lose weight. One ounce—or about two 1-inch squares—containing 70 to 85 percent cocoa packs roughly 25 mg of caffeine.