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The Best Breakfast for Peak Work Performance Looks Like Shit

Here’s what you should eat instead

Ah, breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

Or is it? A debate has broken out over the past few years within the wellness-industrial complex over the efficacy of breakfast. Some New Age health aficionados actually advocate for an intermittent fasting diet that often eschews breakfast. While their cousins, the keto enthusiasts, do eat breakfast, they opt for a breakfast high in fat, such as a hearty cup of butter-enriched coffee (hence the rise of Bulletproof). Others say a breakfast rich in fiber is needed for optimal alertness throughout the day.

The thing about all these options? None is particularly tasty. And as a keto advocate who puts a glob of coconut oil in his coffee every a.m., I can attest that Bulletproof is actually kinda gross.

Standard American breakfast food, on the other hand, is objectively delicious. Bacon, pancakes and syrup are high in the fats, carbohydrates, nitrates and high fructose corn syrups that light up the pleasure centers in our brains and constrict our arteries.

And so, science tells us there are much better things we can put in our bodies in the morning to set ourselves up for success during the workday. In particular, we need foods that give us energy and help us focus, not leave us greasy-faced and flatulent.

But where do we start?

That’s easy. Fish. Eat fish for breakfast.

As Melissa Clark wrote in the New York Times after preparing a flounder in the morning, “fish is a breakfast staple all over the world, from the grilled fish and rice of Japan, to kippers and eggs in England, to the bagels-and-lox brunches of my own childhood.” That’s a solid endorsement: The Japanese live a lot longer than we do; the English only slightly longer.

According to tons of existing research, described in this detailed article on Arianna Huffington’s wellness startup Thrive Global, the key to a healthy, well-firing brain is to maintain a Mediterranean-style diet, one that’s rich in the following foodstuffs:

  • Vegetables (specifically leafy greens)
  • Fruits (especially berries)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Nuts
  • Legumes (seeds, beans, lentils)
  • Whole grains

The Mediterranean diet also advocates low amounts of red meat and to avoid sugars, trans fats and processed foods altogether.

The benefits here are hard to deny: improved emotional health and heart health, plus a reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.

But fish, nuts, peas, seeds and vegetables for breakfast? That’s a tough sell. Just imagine a breakfast smoothie with sardines, pine nuts, lentils and chard. Congrats — you’re healthy as hell, and absolutely no one will ever want to speak to you.

There are certainly delicious dishes to be made from the above ingredients. But many Americans may find it tough to give up their bacon, egg and cheese (good god, sometimes you need that red meat and grease) in favor of whitefish and peas. Or worse. The stock photo on the Ladders version of that brain-food article shows a medley of light yogurt, chickpeas, edamame, olives and what look like weeds pulled out of a sidewalk. I’m just imagining some hipster breakfast spot experimenting with exotic breakfast fish like piure, which “tastes like an iodine pus bag dipped inside a fish’s ass,” according to chef Andrew Zimmern.

I’m going to suggest a quick dish that’s simple and delicious any hour of the day: a slice of Earth-friendly and good-for-you wild Alaskan salmon with a side of sautéed kale or spinach — a meal that’s far easier to prepare than cooking newbies would assume.

The Fish

  1. Take the slice of fish and season it with salt, pepper and olive oil (which is great for Mediterranean diets). Place it on a cooking sheet coated with aluminum foil.
  2. Turn on the broiler (that’s the bottom compartment on your oven). Put the cooking sheet with the fish in there.
  3. Broil for 5 to 7 minutes.

You can replicate this recipe with cod/halibut/any kind of whitefish. The only difference is the cook time. With those fish, you only need to broil for 10 minutes.

The Green Veggies

  1. Add some olive oil to a saute pan on medium-low heat.
  2. Throw in the kale/spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Let it cook down (should take only a few minutes). Take off the heat and squeeze a lemon wedge over it.

Voila. In less than 20 minutes, you’ve prepared a filling, healthy Mediterranean breakfast. Salmon and kale are an excellent combo. You can add a piece of fruit or a fistful of almonds to round out the meal.

And if that still doesn’t sound like breakfast, put a goddamn egg on it.