Skip to main content

Eat a Healthy Breakfast for More Brain Power (January 2024)

Eating Breakfast Can Boost your GPA

Breakfast doesn’t have to look like a traditional picture of a family sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a large meal of eggs, bacon, buttered toast, cereal with milk, orange juice and coffee.

A family from the 1950s sits at their kitchen table with a classic American breakfast.

Breakfast can be whatever you make it and eaten whenever you first feel hungry. Let’s talk about why skipping breakfast can have a negative impact, and how incorporating my tips will help keep you nourished, full of energy and focused.

Stress and newfound freedom of college life can lead to destructive nutrition habits that affect your mood, health and even your grades. The Journal of American College Health published an extensive study in 2020 comparing college students' eating habits and their GPAs.

The study found that breakfast consumption and fast food frequency had a direct impact on grades:

  • Students who didn't eat breakfast or ate breakfast 1-3 times a week had below-average GPAs.
  • Students who ate breakfast 4-7 times a week had above average GPAs.
  • The difference between these groups was as much as 1.06 GPA points.

In a North Carolina State University study, researchers found that students who practice healthy habits in diet and exercise were 50% more likely to graduate than their peers who didn't. Even though we've made progress in terms of what we consider healthy eating, half of us don't get enough fruits and vegetables and 90% eat too much junk food (where 40% of their daily calories come from).

Breakfast is traditionally expected to be eaten early in the morning. My advice to you is, if you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself to eat simply because it’s “breakfast time”.

If you are not hungry because you’re used to fasting, using caffeine to stunt your appetite or are trying to skip meals to lose weight, then please see me for a discussion on whether you’re losing tough with your body’s signals. This is very important when it comes to body weight management and nourishment.

Essentially, you can eat “breakfast” any time of the morning or afternoon when you start to feel hungry, because you will be ‘breaking your fast’ from the last meal you had.

Tips for Eating Breakfast

  1. Eat when you are hungry and try to stick to a consistent schedule. Our bodies love consistency, and when it feels like it can trust you, it will take care of you.
  2. Make your breakfast meal whatever you like. Fancy leftover chicken and rice? Add a little avocado and it sounds like a perfect breakfast to me. Breakfast doesn’t need to be ‘breakfast foods’ like eggs and pancakes. As long as you’re getting a well-balanced meal for your first meal of the day – no matter what time that is, you’ll be giving your body exactly what it needs.
  3. Avoid or limit large amounts of simple carbohydrates. Humans are insulin sensitive in the morning. This is an evolutionary tactic where, for us to be awake, alert, and ready to outrun a bear, our bodies have a spike of stress hormones in the morning. This includes insulin, which drives blood sugar. If we eat a breakfast of pancakes with syrup with orange juice, we will most likely 1) feel a burst of energy 2) have a severe drop of energy due to a dip in blood sugar 3) feel sleepy 1-2 hours after this meal 4) feel incredibly hungry soon after. Choose protein + fat + fiber for your ‘breakfast’ and you’ll avoid these symptoms.

Making Healthy Choices

People gravitate towards foods like burgers, pizza and pasta because they're quick, easy and cheap. You probably know that these things aren't good for you, but isn’t it alluring when you’re running from class to class and you just need something? You might add a few extra pounds but at least you'll free up more time to study and you can save your precious dough for more important things.

Unfortunately, these imbalanced diets and lack of exercise can lead to more than just that spare tire. Research clearly shows they've been linked to:

  • Anxiety
  • Greater risk of depression
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lower grades
  • Sleep disorders

So, what “healthy choices” are we talking about? If you focus your meals on whole foods, minimally processed and full of color, you will be 95% of the way there.

Tips for Choosing Healthier Options

  1. Build your plate around protein. A meat source is best, because animal proteins are considered whole proteins. They contain all 20 amino acids that are required for building new tissues such as muscle, skin, fingernails and hair, and cells of your organs. They strengthen your immune system so you can fight off the common winter cold, and they ensure your gut works wonderfully because they build the lining of your intestinal walls. A palm-sized portion at each meal is ideal. If you choose vegetarian sources, double this amount because vegetable proteins are incomplete proteins, and require a little more work to ensure you’re getting enough and the right combination.
  2. Colorize your plate. A meal of burger and fries is a beige masterpiece and is likewise not nutrient dense. Those precious nutrients, like antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, etc. are found in the color of whole foods. The more colorful your plate, the more nutritious your meal. This doesn’t apply to artificially colored foods, by the way!
  3. Balance your carbs, fats and proteins. This is essential every time you eat. Unless you have a specific condition or are metabolically unhealthy (see me more for details), focus on these three macronutrients at each mealtime. Carbs: a fistful of potato, lentils, wild rice, fruit or pasta. Fats: dairy such as cheese and yogurt, avocado, olive oil, coconut, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Proteins: meat such as chicken, beef, pork, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds and dairy. Also, vegetarian sources such as tofu, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.
  4. Try out PHFF Style of Eating. This stands for Protein + Healthy Fat + Fiber. This can be exceptionally beneficial for those struggling with metabolic issues, stubborn weight loss or gain, and issues with blood sugar, energy, chronic fatigue and low energy.

To learn more about how to navigate breakfast and choosing healthier options so you can gear up for a new semester, please complete the Dietitian Services form to schedule a one-on-one discussion with me. You can also check out my other blog posts on the The Dietitian Dish for more nutritional goodness.