Memory in the morning

There are very practical things we can do to improve our memory as we age — simple, highly effective, no-nonsense actions — such as getting a good night's sleep and eating a nutrient-dense breakfast in the morning. By the way, it should be a fruits-and-vegetables-and-whole-grains-plus-protein kind of breakfast.

What did you eat this morning? Maybe you're eating it as you read this. If you are, and it's full of color and calcium, with lots of energy-dense, high-fiber foods — bravo!

But maybe that breakfast of yours looks sort of white and puffy? Do you know whether it contains any fiber? Is there frosting involved? Trans fats? Not to worry. You'll have another chance tomorrow morning.

By now you have the idea. I suspect you're waiting for me to say this: "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

Research supports the fact that obesity in later life is directly related to not eating breakfast (or poor breakfast choices) when we're younger. Eating a good breakfast does more than keep weight down; it's actually linked to being more creative and having better problem-solving abilities throughout the day. (Honest — I really don't make this stuff up.)

But back to my initial and most important point for aging adults: a healthful breakfast is directly tied to good cognitive function. We need high-fiber, whole-grain cereals, low-fat milk or yogurt, whole (skin-on) fruit and lean protein in the morning. Remember that.

We all know that memory challenges are frequently attributed to aging. A Tufts University study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that simple changes in the way we eat in the morning can have a positive impact on memory function. Consuming calories after an overnight fast improves memory. And each nutrient has specific and positive effects on different aspects of memory ability.

It goes something like this: the folate-filled spinach in your egg-white omelet supports cardiovascular function. The potassium in that sliced banana on your bowl of cereal helps maintain healthy blood pressure and may reduce your risk of stroke. What's good for your heart is good for your head.

This is a slight digression, but it's relevant — I'm reading a book that Newsweek magazine called "the most popular and effective diet you have never heard of." It's written by a well-regarded University of Pennsylvania researcher, Barbara Rolls. The book is titled "The Volumetrics Eating Plan" ( The concept is drawn from research demonstrating how drinking a cup of broth or eating a small green salad prior to a meal creates a feeling of being more satiated, and prompts eating less and differently. The premise is it helps focus on what we can eat, not what we have to give up eating.

This is just one aspect of this innovative volumetric eating plan, but it's the one that initially caught my eye. It's an idea worth considering, especially if you're in the 60-plus-percent of Americans who are overweight or obese.

Actually, all of this might be worth considering. No more doughnuts in the morning. Break the fast with healthful, colorful, whole-grain, lean-protein foods.

Start tomorrow morning.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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