Breakfast for brains

Children really do learn more if they eat breakfast — especially one that doesn’t send their blood sugar soaring and crashing. NPR reports:

Dozens of studies from as far back as the 1950s have consistently shown that children who eat breakfast perform better academically than those who don’t. In a recent study of 4,000 elementary school students, researchers gave half the kids breakfast and directed the other half to skip it. Then, says study director and Harvard psychologist Michael Murphy, the children took a battery of attention tests. To measure short-term memory, researchers read a series of digits out loud — 5, 4, 2, and so on — and asked the children to repeat them. The children were scored on how many digits they could remember correctly. To test verbal fluency, the kids were asked to name all the animals they could think of in 60 seconds. Across the board, Murphy says, the breakfast eaters performed better.

Sugary cereals release glucose too quickly. Oatmeal, which has more protein and fiber, is healthier than sweetened cereal because it releases glucose more slowly and steadily.

Scientists have recently begun to study this phenomenon. Last year, Tufts University psychologist Holly Taylor had one group of children eat sweetened oatmeal for breakfast while another ate Cap’n Crunch cereal. Then both groups were given academic tasks, like memorizing the names of countries on a map. The oatmeal eaters did up to 20 percent better than the Crunch consumers.

Two out of three experts quoted by NPR eat peanut butter (high protein) for breakfast on multigrainbread (high fiber) with low-fat milk. The third prefers uncooked oatmeal.

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  1. The third [expert] prefers uncooked oatmeal.
       Mr. Ed, PhD?

  2. I learned to eat raw oats from a cousin when I was a kid, and rediscovered it when looking for a low-cal breakfast that would keep me going past 11am.

    Add a little fruit, plain yogurt, a splash of milk. It beats soggy bran flakes.

  3. If Captain Crunch is too sugary, I wonder where Pop Tarts lie…

  4. IOWS Bart, you’ve discovered DIY muesli? That has been commercially available under big-name brands (including Kelloggs) and quite popular (in Australia at least) for aeons.


  5. How about Cream of Wheat? I have always despised oatmeal, narsty, watery stuff.

  6. I thought most muesli was toasted or something, but that’s basically what I was shooting for. Oh, and make sure the oats are “old fashioned” and not “quick cooking”.

    As a kid the only additions were milk and white or brown sugar.

  7. A 100% whole wheat bagel with a couple of cups of hot black coffee does the trick for me. Then at brunch, a cup of vanilla yogurt, four chocolate chip cookies, and a banana. This gets me to lunch, and without it, I’d have no energy or brain power whatsoever.

    How kids can expect to listen actively and perform optimally in class without breakfast or, in some cases, without brunch, is beyond me. I keep the temp at around 68F in my room, and there are always those that complain about being cold. Over the years I’ve found that the cold ones probably didn’t eat breakfast or, if they did, a sugary one. I push them to eat breakfast every year with horror stories of diabetes and leg amputations. Sometimes it works.

  8. Hey, don’t go talking smack about my Pop-Tarts. Try the Hot Fudge Sundae ones before you start throwing stones…. 🙂

  9. Oatmeal has not always been narsty watery stuff. In my day old fashioned oatmeal took 20 minutes to cook into a solid chewy lump and “instant” took 5 minutes. Now you have to go to the bulk section at the earthy crunchy store for the real thing.

    BTW, the title to this post had me with my eyes blunk out and my arms outstretched, moaning “breeeakfast, breeeakfast…”

  10. And what about the kids who are sent out the door with a “big gulp” of Pepsi or Coke or some other high-sugar, caffeinated soft drink?

    I really wonder what we are doing, creating a generation of kid-caffeine-addicts. (I was allowed soda AS A RARE TREAT as a child, and then it was either 7-up or orange…)

    I grew up eating oatmeal or cream of wheat or Post Toasties for breakfast. The only time I ever got sugared cereal was when I was sick and was not eating.

    Either a lot of parents don’t know about nutrition, don’t care, or they aren’t being the parent. I mean, they’re older, they’re the ones with the money…they could do like my mom did and say “We’re getting Post Toasties or Raisin Bran; choose one.” Sugared cereal was not an option.

  11. In my day, we watched Huntley-Brinkley every night on our black and white TV, and oatmeal took a long time to cook, and was always watery.

    Breakfast. Bacon and eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, steak and gravy. That’s breakfast.

  12. rwf: That reminds me of the breakfasts my grandmother cooked. Bacon or sausage, fried potatoes or pancakes, eggs (fried), toast with butter and jam, fruit juice, and coffee. Every day started with enough grease to lubricate a car… It made sense when grandpa was going out with the railroad track repair crew and wrestling 120 pound per foot rails around, but wasn’t quite so appropriate when he worked in an office supervising the railroad’s signal technicians.