If you've ever eaten a low-carb breakfast, you know that it does not increase brain power. Your brain uses carbohydrates as its primary source of energy, so you might feel lethargic after a low-carb meal in the morning. But don't grab that extra-large chocolate muffin just yet; make your carbs count by choosing fruits and whole grains. A quick surge of energy from a sugary pastry can leave you feeling just as depleted and sluggish as no breakfast at all.
A carbohydrate-rich breakfast gives your body and brain a sense of satiety and helps keep you alive and alert for all that morning work. Your brain cells eat up twice as much energy as other cells in the body, so restricting your intake of carbohydrates will reduce your ability to concentrate and will negatively affect memory and cognition. Cutting out too many carbohydrates from your diet in a desperate effort to lose weight doesn't work either. Extended periods of hypoglycemia -- low blood sugar caused by carbohydrate restriction -- as a result of restrictive eating sends your body into starvation mode, prompting your cells to store energy as fat, making it easier to pack on the pounds. Do yourself a favor and eat balanced meals with the right amount of carbohydrates.
Adequate Carbohydrate Servings
Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia often induce similar effects in the body such as fatigue, irritability and weakness. Finding the right balance for you is key. For the healthy non-athlete, this is 30 to 45 grams for women and 45 to 60 grams for men per meal, with anywhere from one to two snacks in between containing about 15 to 30 grams of carbs each. Depending on hours of training, strength and endurance, athletes will need more. One serving of carbohydrate food is typically around 15 grams; this is about a tennis ball-sized serving of whole fruit -- such as an apple, orange or pear -- or 1/2 cup of fresh fruit -- berries, pineapple or melon -- one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked grain or pasta, 1/4 cup of beans or 3/4 cup of cereal. Controlling the amount of carbs you eat at breakfast will prevent hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, enabling your brain to better function in the a.m.
Avoid highly processed foods with added sugars such as cereals with more than 15 grams of sugar, pastries, flavored yogurt, muffins and doughnuts. Sugary foods cause your blood sugar to skyrocket and then quickly drop, leaving you feeling tired and moody. Instead, choose foods high in fiber and protein such as fresh or frozen fruit, oatmeal, whole-grain toast, plain Greek yogurt, whole-grain cereal or an omelet with veggies. These high-fiber and high-protein foods keep your blood sugar levels stable and keep your midmorning hunger monster at bay.
One cup of cooked oats packs a nutrient punch with 30 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. Top it off with berries and nuts for more flavor, protein and fiber. Try whole-wheat toast spread with peanut butter and apple slices with a glass of 100 percent orange juice. Or eat plain Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. A portion-controlled and well-rounded breakfast will enhance your brain power for the day so that you can complete everything on your long to-do list.
Based in Illinois, Ashley Galloway writes nutrition-related articles. Her work has been published in "Space Coast Daily " magazine and she maintains a nutriton and recipe blog known as The Fresh Beet. Galloway holds a Master of Science in nutrition from Florida State University and practices as a Registered Dietitian.