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Breakfast nutrition: It helps memory

As we age and our accumulation of friends and recollections increases, remembering gets more complicated. But there are simple, highly effective, no-nonsense approaches, such as getting a good night's sleep and eating a nutrient-rich breakfast, that enhance memory function.

If we eat a breakfast involving fruit, whole grains, protein and, yes, even vegetables, we're going to have a much easier time remembering one another when we have an unexpected encounter and an increased likelihood of accomplishing the tasks we need to do on a given day.

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, reach up and pat yourself on the back. Or does that breakfast you're eating look sort of white and puffy? Is there frosting involved? Not to worry. You'll have another chance tomorrow morning.

Research supports that obesity in later life is directly related to not eating breakfast (or making 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.

A 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 our memory ability. It goes something like this: the spinach in your egg-white omelet supports cardiovascular function. The potassium contained in that sliced banana on your bowl of cereal helps maintain healthy blood pressure. The large orange you peeled and ate segment by luscious segment supports your immune system and gives you more than two grams of fiber. (We all need more fiber — most of us get about half the fiber we actually need, which is 25 to 30 grams a day.) Go to www.choosemyplate.gov for more fiber-related considerations and some interesting breakfast ideas.

Remember this: nutrient-dense eating — at breakfast and throughout the day — has a positive effect on our cognition. Some foods have a greater influence than others. Consider the following list of foods which are either suspected to improve brain function or have been proven to do just that. They include (in alphabetical order) apples, avocados, bananas, blueberries (make that red and purple fruits of all kinds), dark green vegetables (spinach is probably the best example), eggs, flaxseed and salmon.

You might consider having one or more of the items on the list above for breakfast over the next few weeks to see whether it seems to positively affect your recall ability. Even if you choose not to do that, go easy on doughnuts and bagels in the morning. Break the fast with something more colorful.

Start tomorrow morning. Will you remember that? Good.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.