The Best Breakfast to Boost Mental Health, According to Science

July 27th 2016

Lucy Tiven

The value of breakfast gets overhyped, but the first thing you eat every day can improve your mental health, according to scientists, mental health professionals, and nutritionists.

Asked to describe the most beneficial breakfast for people suffering from depression, nutritionist Melissa Brunetti told Quartz about the links between our dietary choices and mental health.

The best breakfast to fend off depression.

"An ideal breakfast for people struggling with depression would be eggs (which include amino acids, omega-3, vitamin D, and fatty acids), with sprouted-grain toast and smashed avocado," Brunetti told Quartz.

"The fatty acids in eggs are key," Brunetti added.

An egg/avocado sandwich on sprouted-grain toast might be a good choice.

Why it works.

"Studies have found that omega-3, amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron" — hallmarks of the popular Mediterranean diet — "help create strong mental health," Quartz reported.

"Our brain is about 60 percent fat, and we need to get our fat from a dietary source," Brunetti said. "Avocado is rich in tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin, which is our feel-good chemical. It also has folate and omega-3 in it.”

Chocolate contains tryptophan as well, but it's also packed with sugar, which can lead to fatigue as it is absorbed into the bloodstream, Everyday Health reported.

You may be better off sticking with an avocado.

The Mediterranean diet features mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and uses olive oil in place of butter, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It also is low in salt. People who follow the Mediterranean diet eat fish and poultry at least twice a week and consume red meat in moderation.

The diet has been linked to improved cardiovascular health, and it may also reduce the risk of depression, according to a recent study reported by Forbes.

The study — by the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra Project — traced connections between dietary choices and physical and mental health conditions. The Mediterranean diet reduced study participants' risk of depression even if they did not follow its rules strictly.

The amino acids contained in fish, eggs, and dairy produce mood-elevating neurotransmitters, according to a 2001 study in the Handbook of Behavior, Food, and Nutrition.

"Nutrients are needed to fuel our brain. If we're not getting the nutrients in through diet, then we don't have the nutrients to formulate our neurotransmitters, our neurochemicals, or regulate our blood sugar or hormones," Brunetti said. "Food can have huge impact on people's mental health."

Antioxidants contained in berries and various other foods also alleviate depression, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.

[h/t Quartz]