Universiteit Leiden

Brain for breakfast

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Glucose is known as a type of sugar which functions for the brain as fuel. You can deliver glucose with a rich breakfast. But how can eating breakfast possibly help us to boost our brain?

Once I read on a coffee mug “I eat goals for breakfast”. A rich breakfast in my opinion is the most important meal and a good start to provide your body with the needed energy. Because every day, every second the cells in our body are dependent on fuel. This is the basis for us to breathe, think, walk and laugh. As a fuel the body primarily depends on sugar, especially glucose. Without this substance nobody would be able to survive. Let alone the brain burns 140 gram of glucose every day. That is about 14 tablespoons of sugar.

In order for the body to work, you do not have to deliver glucose in its pure form. The organism can produce this fuel by its own – out of different foods such as bread, juices or fruits. In healthy people 100 milliliters blood contains 60 to 140 milligram glucose, depending on whether the consumed a meal or not. It needs guardians so that the sugar reaches the cells, can be stored or used up out of depots. Many hormones guide the complex sugar regulation, especially insulin and glucagon. Insulin comes from the pancreas. This hormone helps to carry the sugar out of the blood to the different body cells. That is how insulin makes sure that the blood sugar level sinks slowly after a meal. That takes a while, because there are intermediate steps necessary. The counterpart is glucagon. This hormone plays a key role in poverty and hunger, because it makes sure that the store sugar glycogen converts backwards in the cell food glucose. Furthermore, during sport glucagon is active, because the muscles need more energy. Glucagon helps the reduction of muscles´ sugar store.

The best and easiest way to deliver glucose to prepare your body and especially your brain for the challenging day is to eat adequate. A very important meal is breakfast enriched with glucose. You can ensure to take glucose by consuming food containing sugars and carbohydrates or starches such as fruits, juices or bread. The consumed sugar reaches the brain, thus making it possible to enhance brain performance like seen in memory tasks. In an experimental study Benton and Parker investigated whether breakfast effects memory in contrast to morning fasting. Therefore subjects executed different memory tests. The researchers compared people who ate a glucose enriched breakfast to people who fasted in the morning. The results are very particle for everyday life: Breakfast improved the performance in three different memory tests. In contrast fasting in the morning is associated with impaired memory. They also found that glucose enriched breakfast consumption affects the retention of new information.

Supporting results were found in a study by Sünram-Lea and colleagues concerning naturalistic glucose intake including breakfast and different memory tests. The results show that glucose supports the brain in so far as subjects who ate glucose enriched food showed better memory performance than fasting people. However, future research on the topic is needed since there are still uncertainties about the effects of glucose intake, like having breakfast, on the brain performance and the mechanisms which are responsible for the improved memory function in humans. But thinking of the easy way to consume glucose, like by means of breakfast and the determined positive effects of glucose for the brain, it is worth it to do further research.

Considering the brain enhancing effects of glucose, it can safely be said that breakfast, enriched with glucose, is a very good source for the needed energy for your day. Furthermore, glucose is associated with good cognitive function and the brain uses up more glucose during challenging mental tasks. That is why breakfast is a good basis for realizing your goals.

Benton, D., & Parker, P. Y. (1998). Breakfast, blood glucose, and cognition. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 67(4), 772S-778.
Sünram-Lea, S. I., Foster, J. K., Durlach, P., & Perez, C. (2001). Glucose facilitation of cognitive performance in healthy young adults: examination of the influence of fast-duration, time of day and pre-consumption plasma glucose levels. Psychopharmacology, 157(1), 46-54.

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