This Super-Powered Breakfast Releases Feel-Good Brain Chemicals
We’ve all had those days when we wake up feeling stressed, sad, or anxious. When you start off feeling fragile, a breakfast that provides a combination of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat fuels you to face the day by promoting1 stable blood sugar and energy. Specific nutrients2 in foods can also affect our body’s stress response and brain function to help support a better mood. As a registered dietitian and health coach, I help people come up with ways to navigate those tough days.
I use this stuff in my own life, by the way. When I was 29 and finding my sea legs after a breakup, this breakfast got me through many a morning when I had to show up for work at the hospital and be a functional adult who could go an hour without crying.
If you’re short on time in the morning or need to bring your breakfast to heat and eat at work (been there), you can make this the night before—even make a big batch and portion it out into single-serving containers. It’s all about making your life easier and powering up to face the day no matter what side of the bed you woke up on.
So what are the feel-better ingredients?
Oats (and flax!).
Oats are on my list of "good carbs." Those complex carbohydrates break down more slowly than their refined counterparts and are helpful for maintaining efficient production of mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin3. Oats also provide vitamin B6 and tryptophan, both of which are key to efficient serotonin production. In this recipe, I keep the serving size to ⅓ cup (rather than the ½ cup most labels call for with rolled oats) and add some ground flax for extra fiber4 and some cortisol-taming omega-3s5, which have been studied extensively6 for their positive impact on depressive symptoms.
Cooking an egg into oatmeal might sound weird, but hear me out! Aside from lending a rich flavor and fluffy texture, eggs provide satiating protein and fat, as well as tryptophan, which helps balance mood. You definitely want to eat the yolks, too—there’s lots of good stuff in there like vitamins A, D, and K, plus choline, an important nutrient for brain function. There are also some omega-3s in there, which help promote a healthy brain.
Chocolate for breakfast is also totally justifiable when you wake up feeling bummed—those cocoa flavanols to help you think clearly7 and prevent stress from hijacking your day right out of the gate. Chocolate has also been shown to boost your mood8. Just keep portions realistic—about an ounce per day max to reap those benefits is all you need. Spread the love through the day and use a light touch here using chocolate as a garnish. The cacao powder used in this recipe delivers a rich flavor so you can enjoy without overdoing it. It also adds an extra gram or two of filling fiber.
Pomegranate seeds are magical with chocolate, and they also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties9, both of which help keep moods stable. A half-cup also provides almost 4 grams of filling fiber to help keep hangry midmorning meltdowns at bay.
Chocolate Pomegranate Proats
- ⅓ cup oats
- ⅔ cup water
- 1 tablespoon ground flax
- 1 tablespoon cacao powder
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 teaspoon dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs
- Optional garnishes: nut butter and coconut flakes
- Bring water to a boil in a small sauce pot.
- Add oats, flax, cacao powder, cinnamon, and sea salt. Stir well and lower heat to medium-low.
- Allow to cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until almost all liquid has been absorbed.
- Mix in vanilla and cook another minute before adding the egg.
- Stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes or until oats are fluffy. Cover and turn off heat. Allow to sit about 5 minutes before pouring into a bowl.
- Enjoy warm and topped with pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate chips, and any other desired garnishes such as a drizzle of nut butter or a sprinkle of coconut flakes.
Note: To make this in the microwave, mix the egg in with the liquid. Microwave in 1-minute intervals, stirring between, until oats have absorbed all the liquid.
Want more mood-boosting foods? Here are the top three serotonin-producing foods to include daily.
Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise. She received her Masters of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, and a dietetic internship at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Her writing has been featured in Forbes and Shape. Her book, The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits for Managing Stress & Anxiety, offers simple hacks that help her patients and clients reach their goals and nurture their mental, physical, and emotional health, even when life becomes hectic.