Research suggests that health and nutrition affects children’s success in school (Leslie & Jamison, 1990). We all know that if you feed a kid a diet made up of fizzy drinks, sweets and endless amounts of take-aways, then they’re going to struggle at school (and no I don’t just mean being bullied for being on the chubby side). But these kinds of foods weaken our immune system meaning that these kids are likely to get ill and miss more time off of school due to this. Research has also found that teenagers at school with a food insufficiency are more likely to have lower academic achievements and there is a higher chance that they will even be suspended from school due to bad behaviour (Alaimo et al., 2001). In this week’s blog I’m going to expand on this as I’m not only interested in whether what we eat actually affects people’s success in education.. but also, what it is that’s so special about certain foods that help us become more successful with our studies.
Foods that contain a vitamin-B-like substance called choline are a good choice for people in education. Apparently choline and B’vitamins are really good for improving memory (Meck, Smith & Williams, 1988). Maaaaany studies have found similar results – mainly by injecting rats with choline and seeing their ability to memorise and improve tasks once they have been injected (eg. Meck & Williams, 1997). By improving memory this will obviously help in education as students will remember the stuff they have learnt. Foods that contain this magic choline are: eggs – which are really really rich in choline, cauliflower, beef (not horse..), navy beans, tofu and almonds.
Next up is one that most people are familiar with when we think of trying to improve our learning: omega-3 fatty acids. People often squirm at this because they just associate it with fish, but omega-3 is in other foods too; including walnuts! The reason omega-3 works so well is due to the fatty acid DHA which improves brain function as well as mood. Improved brain function includes improved listening skills, reasoning, responding etc! So if we are listening and responding better in class then it is more likely that we will do well in the assessments! Sin and Bryan (2007) support this as it was found that children who were diagnosed with ADHD showed signs of improved behaviour and they were not as restless when they were given a supplement of omega-3 fatty acid. Wild berries also include omega-3 fatty acids, but berries are extra special as they also have antioxidants, so not only do wild berries improve brain function and mood but the antioxidants can also help the blood flow to the brain!
So far so healthy, but fear not, we are in fact allowed some naughty foods in order to become more wise. First of all – CAFFIENE (found in chocolate, red bull and yummy, yummy tea) is thought to help focus energy and improve mental performance (Lieberman, 2001). Seidl et al., (2000) believes that this is due to the effect caffeine has on the purinergic receptors and taurine modulation of receptors. Although please don’t have too much of the stuff, there can be negative consequences (for those of you who watch The Inbetweeners, you’ll know what I’m talking about….). Another one – SUGAR! Galliot and Baumeister (2007) found that low glucose levels (so not much sugar consumed) are bad for people’s ability to have self-control. Whereas, higher levels of blood-glucose are considered to improve attention-span, resist impulsivity, help to cope with stress and regulate emotions, all of which are extremely helpful for people trying to study. Again, don’t go too crazy on the sugar though, I don’t want you to end up too hyper.
To summarize, we always knew that a healthy diet is key for kids at school and also for adults who are in education, as bad foods can have a negative effect on academic performance. But research explains the reasons why some foods are better than others. Food with choline help improve memory, foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids help with brain function and moods, antioxidants make improvements to the blood flow to the brain and even caffeine and sugar can be beneficial as they are considered to help focus energy and self-control. So to conclude, if we do eat these kind of foods we could potentially be better at our studies!
If you have any other ideas of what foods you think might help improve the way we learn, or if you think I’m talking rubbish or if there is just anything else you’d like to add then please drop me a comment 🙂
Alaimo, K., Olson, C. M., & Frongillo Jr, E. A. (2001). Food insufficiency and American school-aged children’s cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development. Pediatrics, 108(1), 44-53.
Gailliot, M. T., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). The physiology of willpower: Linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(4), 303-327
Lieberman, H. R. (2001). The effects of ginseng, ephedrine, and caffeine on cognitive performance, mood and energy. Nutrition reviews, 59(4), 91-102.
Meck, W. H., & Williams, C. L. (1997). Characterization of the facilitative effects of perinatal choline supplementation on timing and temporal memory.Neuroreport, 8(13), 2831-2835.
Meck, W. H., Smith, R. A., & Williams, C. L. (1988). Pre‐and postnatal choline supplementation produces long‐term facilitation of spatial memory.Developmental psychobiology, 21(4), 339-353.
Sinn, N., & Bryan, J. (2007). Effect of supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients on learning and behavior problems associated with child ADHD. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 28(2), 82.
Seidl, R., Peyrl, A., Nicham, R., & Hauser, E. (2000). A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being. Amino acids,19(3), 635-642.
You can watch this instead of reading it here 🙂
Promise I won’t read so much from my notes next time…