Girls need a more satisfying breakfast than boys if they are to perform at their best in the classroom, according to a new university of Ulster study, while a carbohydrate/protein mix meal increased performance all-round compared with carbohydrates alone.
Dr Barbara Stewart, from the Northern Ireland Centre for Diet and Health at UU, led the research project, where pupils were fed a breakfast of toast or beans and toast and then tested on cognitive ability.
The researchers found that boys performed better on tests of attention and memory when they were a little hungry while girls performed better on the same tests when they were satiated.
"The link between having breakfast and performance at school or work is well established but this research suggests girls need a more satisfying breakfast than boys to perform at their best," said Stewart. The research, which is due to be presented at the ninth European Nutrition Conference in Rome this week, also found that when cognitive tasks were made more complicated, participants eating beans on toast for breakfast performed better than their counterparts eating toast only.
"Both types of breakfast improved the time taken to select the correct answer on tests of attention and memory but as the tests became more difficult respondents who had eaten the beans on toast performed better," she said.
There have been a number of studies into the relationship between high carbohydrate breakfast and the ability to concentrate but the results have been inconclusive. Stewart suggests a reason for these conflicting findings could be that many studies have investigated attention and memory in relation to breakfast without consideration of mood.
"Mood and cognition appear to interact and this seems to influence the type of breakfast required for optimal performance. The beans breakfast produced better performance among the girls, especially when they were experiencing a negative mood," continued Stewart.
Stewart concluded from the study that cognitive performance may be determined by a combination of factors, not simply the type of breakfast consumed. Adding that, although the researchers believe that breakfast type is an important determining factor, it must be considered in relation to gender, mood and satiety.
"Due to the interaction between cognition and mood a satisfying, high carbohydrate/protein breakfast, such as beans on toast, helps the girls perform at their best while boys perform better when their breakfast leaves them feeling a little hungry," summed up Stewart.