Adding a banana to a bowl of cereal and milk could be the key to better mental health in teenagers, according to Australian researchers who have found that a variety of foods at breakfast is linked to mental functioning.

Presenting her research at the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) national conference, dietitian Therese O'Sullivan from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research said a high quality breakfast, with foods from at least three different healthy food groups, was linked with better mental health in 14 year old boys and girls.

And she said that for every extra food group eaten at breakfast, the associated mental health score improved.

'Eating a breakfast of toast with a glass of milk and some fruit seems to be better than just a large serve of toast alone. This may be because mental functioning is affected by the absorption of a variety of nutrients, including calcium, iron and B group vitamins,' said Ms O'Sullivan, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

The researchers asked more than 800 teenagers what they ate for breakfast, and scored this based on their intake of the core food groups. Mental health was assessed using a child behaviour checklist.

They found that just one in four teens ate a high quality breakfast, and the two most common core food groups eaten at breakfast were breads/cereals and dairy products.

Disturbingly, a small proportion of teens did not eat any items from the healthy core food groups for breakfast over the three day study period.

Research has already shown that students who eat breakfast pay more attention in class, retain more information and are more interested in learning, but this is the first study to show that variety at breakfast is also important.

According to Australia's last national nutrition survey, high school-aged girls were more likely to skip breakfast than boys. The report found that around one in three girls aged 12 to 15 did not eat a regular breakfast, compared with 13 per cent of boys.

Ms O'Sullivan suggests trying the following ideas to increase variety of nutrient intake at breakfast:

- Add a spoonful of sunflower seeds to your cereal
- Top your toast with a sliced banana
- Sprinkle diced dried fruit over your cereal or add some canned fruit
- For a quick breakfast on the go, prepare a whole grain sandwich with baked beans and cheese the night before and toast it in the sandwich maker the next morning.

The DAA 26th national conference will be held from May 29 - 31 at Conrad Jupiters at the Gold Coast. The conference is titled 'Improving nutrition - a social responsibility'.

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) is the professional body representing dietitians nationally. Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is the only national credential recognised by the Australian Government, Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most private health funds as the quality standard for nutrition and dietetics services in Australia. For more information visit

Background information

- Karen Struthers MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health (Queensland) will open the conference on Thursday, May 29 at 9am.

Dietitians Association of Australia