Even though my school days are long behind me, I always find that September brings that fresh start feeling. Whether you're back to school or not, being well-equipped for a productive day (which also equates avoiding the required nap at your desk by 3 p.m.) starts before you exit the house — at breakfast. For optimal health, better concentration levels, improved energy, let alone a slimmer waistline, try powering your performance with a few of these ingredients during your most important meal of the day.
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1. Add a handful of blueberries
While we know the many benefits of blueberries on insulin, according to research they can also boost your concentration and memory up to five hours later. In a British study, volunteers who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did much better at mental tasks mid-afternoon than people who had an alternative drink. A study at the University of Cincinnati found that blueberry-supplemented diets improved memory function and mood in older adults with early memory decline.
Bottom line: I recommend adding a half cup of blueberries daily to your smoothie, topping your yogurt or enjoying them as a side dish to your breakfast. As an added bonus to boosting brain power, blueberries are the only berry I have seen proven in studies to aid the hormonal balance that shreds belly fat too.
2. Get in your greens
The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) unit is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements. It's believed that foods higher on the ORAC scale will more effectively neutralize free radicals which slows the oxidative processes and free radical damage that can contribute to age-related degeneration and disease. Studies have shown that eating plenty of high-ORAC foods can raise the antioxidant power of human blood 10 to 25 percent. They've also been shown to protect blood vessels against oxygen damage and prevent long-term memory loss in middle-aged rats.
Bottom line: Items that have a high ORAC value include acai berries, unprocessed cocoa beans, wild blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, kale, spinach and matcha green tea, to name a few. I recommend adding a fruit and veggie powder with a high ORAC score to your smoothies or enjoying it in a large glass of water each morning.
3. Go nuts to stay fuller, longer
A recent study by Dr. Richard Mattes found that adults with insulin sensitivity (or pre-diabetes) benefited from including almonds at breakfast. It also significantly increased satiety and decreased blood glucose levels throughout the day compared to the nut-free, low fat breakfast.
Bottom line: Add a tablespoon of chopped nuts (avoid peanuts) or sugar-free nut butter to your smoothies. Keeping a wide variety of nut butters (such as pumpkin, hazelnut, almond, cashew, or sunflower seeds) on hand is also an easy way to add a twist of flavour to your smoothies.
4. Weigh in on whey
Protein is essential for maintaining healthy body composition, blood sugar balance, tissue repair and muscle growth. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition also suggests consuming protein in the morning makes you feel fuller throughout day.
Bottom line: For those who can’t stomach a large meal first thing in the morning, a smoothie with a scoop of whey protein isolate (or rice or mixed vegan protein) can provide a quick and easy way of getting into your brain food. As an alternative to protein powder, you can also add a serving of unflavoured, high-protein Greek yogurt to your smoothie or simply mix the ingredients in a bowl.
5. Stick with seeds
Chia (both ground and seed version) is my favourite option for boosting the fibre of your meal without strongly affecting the taste. Regular use has been shown to raise blood levels of essential fatty acids (aka brain food!), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) by 138 percent and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) by 30 percent according to a study in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.
Bottom line: Add one to two tablespoons of ground chia seeds to your smoothies or get the seed version and top your eggs or oatmeal. As an alternative you can opt for ground flaxseed, or alternative between the two.
6. Sprinkle some cinnamon
A study in the journal of Diabetic Care showed that daily intake of cinnamon can improve glucose levels (18-29 percent), triglycerides (23-30 percent), LDL cholesterol (7-27 percent), and total cholesterol (12-26 percent). Another study found that 3 grams of cinnamon reduced post-meal insulin levels. Better response to insulin means better blood sugar balance and less blood sugar crashes throughout the day.
Bottom line: A dash of cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon) is also easy to add in a smoothie, or even your morning coffee or tea.
7. Switch to sprouted grains
If you find it hard to give up your morning toast, then I recommend opting for sprouted grain bread (such as Ezekiel). Not surprisingly, several studies show that the consumption of whole grains are associated with lower fasting insulin concentrations then a diet of refined grains. The more processed and refined a food item, the lower they are in fibre. The fibre acts as a thick sieve slowing down the absorption of food, keeping you fuller, longer.
Bottom line: As a second best option, you can choose 100-percent whole-grain rye bread (such as Dimpflmeier and Stonemill breads). Skip the high sugar jams and jellies and top your toast with a couple of fried eggs to get your protein and fats in. Add a side serving of berries or a low glycemic fruit for a quick and easy breakfast option.
8. Eat the old-fashioned way
For breakfast, eggs are known to improve appetite control and boost energy levels — regardless of how they’re prepared. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found that participants who consumed eggs for breakfast had greater feelings of satiety, and consumed significantly less calories for lunch.
Bottom line: If you find that eggs upset your stomach, try duck eggs, which have a richer taste but are often less allergenic (available through organic grocery stores). Keep in mind that one duck egg is the equivalent of two regular eggs.
What's your favourite breakfast food?
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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