The importance of breakfast cannot be overstated, and this is particularly true when it comes to teenagers. Breakfast means, quite literally, breaking the fast so you can restock your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. If a teen's body isn't refueled each morning with the necessary mix of protein and carbohydrates, brain power and memory are likely to suffer, as will performance in school.
Breakfast and the Brain
Neurotransmitters in the brain transmit signals to other parts of the body, but the performance of neurotransmitters is directly affected by the type of food you eat. Two types of proteins impact neurotransmitters: tyrosine, a protein that acts as a stimulant, and tryptophan, which has a relaxing effect on the brain. A breakfast containing the appropriate balance of these two types of proteins will allow the brain to function at its optimum level, improving memory and the ability to learn. This balance is achieved by combining complex carbohydrates with proteins, which help carry amino acids from protein to the brain and improve the performance of neurotransmitters.
The USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Symposium titled "Breakfast and Learning in Children" points to a direct correlation between breakfast and memory in children and teens, noting that eating breakfast helps "improve memory and positively affects the tasks that require the retention of new information." Conversely, if a teen eats a breakfast that doesn't contain the correct balance of proteins and carbohydrates, or skips breakfast altogether, he may "become tired, irritable, restless, and fail to focus on academics or behave appropriately."
A study undertaken at Tuft's University compared children who ate a breakfast of oatmeal (a carbohydrate with protein and fiber) with others who ate sugary breakfast cereal, which contains less fiber and more sugar. According to the results, kids who ate oatmeal performed better when given short-term memory tests. This is because our bodies digest whole grains and protein more slowly, resulting in a continuous, sustained energy level and stable blood glucose levels. Foods high in refined sugars, on the other hand, will give teens and children a short, fast blast of energy followed by a crash.
Memory-Enhancing Breakfast Choices
As the Tuft's study indicates, oatmeal is a great breakfast choice for enhanced memory function. Add skim milk and raspberries, which contain antioxidants that can improve cognitive function. A whole-wheat tortilla containing scrambled eggs with grated cheese is also an ideal choice, as the choline found in eggs has been found to increase memory and concentration. Another great breakfast is French toast with chopped walnuts and cinnamon; the whole-grain bread combined with the egg provides a balance of protein and carbohydrates, while the Omega-3 fatty acids contained in walnuts will enhance brain function and cinnamon will help keep blood glucose levels stable.