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Eat This for Breakfast to Improve Your Mood All Day

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Cancel Eat This for Breakfast to Improve Your Mood All Day Eating protein and healthy fat first thing in the morning can keep you alert throughout the day. (Getty Images)
Most of us have experienced how food can make us feel “good” or “bad.” Maybe you’ve felt tired after a big Thanksgiving meal or energized after a healthy fruit smoothie . In this way, you know that food doesn’t only affect your physical health, but also your mental health. That’s because what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
[See: Best Foods to Eat for Your Mood – and a Few Bad Ones .]
Breakfast food is no exception. While we know that eating breakfast is important – research has found breakfast eaters have fewer cravings, better self-control and higher productivity – not all breakfasts are created equal. Putting a little thought into your morning routine can help improve your mood all day long. Here’s how to create a breakfast that works for your mental health:
1. Toss refined carbs.
Most American breakfast staples – think sugary cereal, bagels and muffins – are largely refined carbohydrates, which give you a quick boost of energy but a crash later on. Not only do you have fluctuating energy levels throughout the day, but you’ll also be hungry again soon after. Sure, a breakfast of high-carbohydrate comfort food feels good in the moment, but what happens after the food is digested? After about an hour, you’ll feel tired, cranky and lethargic.
2. Swap in complex carbs.
Carbohydrates are not necessarily the enemy, but it’s always best to choose complex carbs with high fiber contents such as fruit, whole grains or starchy vegetables. Complex, high-fiber carbs – from minimally-processed grains – digest more slowly to help fill you up and control your blood sugar.
3. Add protein and healthy fats.
Protein-rich foods increase tyrosine, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help to increase alertness. There is also strong research suggesting that protein helps lead to satiety and fullness. In addition, certain healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids become part of the membranes of brain cells and control many brain processes. To round out a breakfast meal, focus on adding protein and some healthy fat found in foods like hard-boiled eggs, nuts, Greek yogurt and nut butters.
[See: High-Protein Breakfast Ideas .]
4. Look for these nutrients.
Grabbing a small breakfast not only provides calories to get your body off to a good start, but it can also provide mood-boosting nutrients. Aim to include: Thiamine (vitamin B1), which is found in legumes, some seeds, and fortified grains and cereals, is necessary for maintaining your energy and coordinating the activity of nerves and muscles. Thiamine deficiency can lead to weakness, irritability and depression. Folate (vitamin B9), which is found in leafy greens, legumes and fortified grains, is essential for supporting red blood cell production. It helps prevent the buildup of the amino acid homocysteine in your blood, which is linked to heart disease risk. It also allows nerves to function properly. Iron is another important nutrient that can help stave off depression, fatigue and inattention. You can find healthy amounts of iron in spinach, tofu, fortified cereals and breads, as well as potatoes , eggs, raisins and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are also connected to mood. These healthy fats improve memory and mood, and can help fight depression, negative thoughts and impulsive actions. Good sources are black walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds and egg yolks.
[See: 9 Foods That Can Keep Your Brain Sharp .]
5. Keep it simple.
While this breakfast “recipe” might seem overwhelming, I tell my clients at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to keep things simple by focusing on including a complex carbohydrate, protein, healthy fat or, ideally, all three at breakfast. Keep an eye on food labels and read ingredient lists to get a better handle on what you are eating. Look for whole grains and minimal added sugar whenever possible. Some examples of healthy, mood-boosting breakfasts include: A slice or two of whole-grain toast with half a mashed avocado and topped with one to two lightly fried or poached eggs; Homemade old-fashioned oatmeal topped with blueberries, ground flaxseed and chopped walnuts; or Spinach omelet made with 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and diced tomatoes, and served with half a fresh grapefruit. Here’s What People Eat for Breakfast in 9 Other Countries Slideshow Rise and dine (Getty Images)
When registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey makes oatmeal in her New York City home, she doesn’t always top it with expected accoutrements like nuts, raisins, fruit or honey. Instead, she mixes in shredded vegetables such as zucchini and carrots. “In America, we have this ‘breakfast food’ mentality,” which often includes cereal, donuts and other sweet carbohydrates, she says. “We don’t think … outside that box that you can really eat any food at breakfast.” That’s not the case in many other countries, where leftover dinner and savory vegetables often take center plate in the morning, Rumsey’s found during her travels. Need a.m. inspiration? Jump on this culinary world tour: Italy (Getty Images)
Whether you’re fighting the inevitable afternoon energy crash or burning the midnight oil preparing for a work presentation, in the U.S., ordering a giant cup of coffee on the go is acceptable and possible at all hours, day and night. Not so in European countries like Italy, where sipping a latte is a morning-only, sit-down affair, Rumsey says. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or a full meal, Americans might try replicating Europeans’ tendency to sit and savor rather than dining while dashing, since paying attention to what you’re eating can prevent overeating and promote satiation, Rumsey says. “That mindfulness is a good way to start the day,” she says. India (Getty Images)
Hot South Indian weather doesn’t deter residents from whipping up steamy morning meals, says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian near Los Angeles who grew up in India. One common choice is vegetable upma, a hot grain dish made with vegetables like onions, carrots and green beans, and spiced with ginger, curry, mustard seeds and cumin. “Simple and comforting, this warm morning meal provides plenty of iron, calcium and fiber,” says Sheth, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who recommends Americans take note of Indian food’s focus on plant-based proteins and vegetables. “Incorporating more protein and vegetables at breakfast can help us better meet our nutritional needs as well as provide more satiety,” she says. Israel (Getty Images)
Who says salads are just for lunch? Not Israelis, who often wake up to a fresh, green meal, Rumsey says. “Israeli breakfasts are healthy affairs which include vegetable salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and olive oil” paired with a type of yogurt cheese and cottage cheese, she says. If crunching raw veggies first thing in the morning doesn’t suit your fancy, try sauteing them and adding them to scrambled eggs, Rumsey suggests. As she does in the morning, ask yourself: “How can I work in more protein and how can I work in more vegetables?” France (Getty Images)
During Rumsey’s week in France, she enjoyed an espresso and a buttery pastry, like a croissant, every morning. While she doesn’t claim the treat is nutritious, she does recommend Americans take note of Europeans’ lack of snacking. “Their lunch is their bigger meal, so [their day] tends to be more balanced,” says Rumsey, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Although Rumsey supports snacking in some cases – say, you’ve gone more than five hours without eating and are using the mini-meal to consume more nutrients – making lunch the biggest meal might benefit Americans, too, if it wards off unhealthy afternoon snack cravings and supports more moderate evening choices, Rumsey says. England (Getty Images)
As in many European countries, it’s common to find yogurt-and-granola-type breakfast options in the U.K., Rumsey says. But a more traditional English breakfast might include sausage, bacon, eggs, toast and other indulgent-seeming foods that are familiar to Americans. The difference? “European breakfasts provide a much more reasonable portion size,” Rumsey says. Even their 4- or 5-ounce juice glasses seem tiny to Americans, she says. But using smaller dishware to eat and drink can trick you into being satisfied with less food by making you think you’re eating more, research suggests. “It will help you naturally eat a little less,” Rumsey says. Australia (Getty Images)
American kids grow up with peanut butter; Australian tykes are more familiar with Vegemite – a salty spread made from yeast extract. The breakfast staple is high in B vitamins, Rumsey says, which help your body stay energized throughout the day, but it’s not as high in protein as peanut butter. Australians may also turn to egg dishes like omelets in the morning, but the fillings there and in other countries tend to trump those in the U.S. when it comes to freshness, Rumsey says. “The omelet is going to be different at IHOP than in Europe, where the vegetables are bought at the market,” she says. “Other parts of the world, there’s more of an emphasis on where the food comes from.” Turkey (Getty Images)
Rumsey’s recent trip to Turkey put the “good” in “good morning.” Her breakfasts there, as well as in Greece, were mouthwatering spreads that included bread, cheese, butter, eggs, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam and honey. “I love that you get to have little bites of everything,” she says, “and it’s a good balance of vegetables, protein, carbs and fat.” To better balance your breakfast plate , aim for one-quarter protein, one-quarter carbohydrates, at least 1 cup of vegetables and a little bit of fat, Rumsey suggests. In food form, that might look like two scrambled eggs with tomatoes and broccoli atop a piece of whole-grain bread and a slice of cheese. Colombia (Getty Images)
You may associate Colombia with coffee. But the South American country puts the mojo in mornings with more than its famed beverage. Calentado, which translates to “heated,” for one, consists of (typically reheated) lentils or beans and rice that are topped with an egg. “This is a balanced meal with some carbs, protein, healthy fat and fiber,” as well as lots of vitamins and minerals, Rumsey says. She suggests Americans consider adding beans or lentils to their morning meals, perhaps by pairing them with eggs or mixing them with spinach, tomatoes and spices. Japan (Getty Images)
When Sheri Wetherell lived in Japan, she was surprised to learn a typical breakfast includes miso soup, hot rice with a raw egg, a green salad and sometimes a small piece of leftover grilled fish. “Most Americans would consider this an odd combination for a meal, let alone a morning meal,” says the CEO of Foodista.com . But the breakfast is low in fat, high in protein, and the soup alone is packed with vitamins, healthy bacteria and antioxidants, she says. Rumsey also recommends repackaging last night’s meal in the morning – especially if it’s some combination of protein and vegetables; not take-out pizza. “Think outside the box,” she says.

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