Your education is what you eat

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 Review11(4), 303-327

Lieberman, H. R. (2001). The effects of ginseng, ephedrine, and caffeine on cognitive performance, mood and energy. Nutrition reviews59(4), 91-102.

 Meck, W. H., & Williams, C. L. (1997). Characterization of the facilitative effects of perinatal choline supplementation on timing and temporal memory.Neuroreport8(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 psychobiology21(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 Pediatrics28(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…


7 thoughts on “Your education is what you eat

  1. lilbex23 says:

    Really interesting topic Sinae, I agree with the points you’ve made. Diet can have a massive impact on people without them really realizing it. Simple changes in diet can often lead to changes in mood and alleviate depression ( After reading you’re blog I started to question the impact that eating a healthy breakfast can have on education, so decided to do a little research into that area to expand on your blog topic. Research by Khan found that upper primary pupils who regularly missed breakfast or consumed an unhealthy breakfast reported feeling sleepy, inactive and forgetful; this could have a major impact on the quality of education the child receives, or the quality of the information they take in and retain. Schools and psychologists have collaborated with the intention of setting up breakfast clubs in school offering children healthy breakfast choices, which in turn should improve their memory and cognitive ability.

    • Sinae says:

      That’s something to consider Becky! Maybe it’s not just what we eat that matters but also when we eat it too. As you mentioned – breakfast is important, so eating in the morning is crucial, but what about the impact of eating at night?

      Urponen et al. (1988) suggests we should avoid eating late at night because it can really disturb our sleeping habits. Research by Paxinos and Bindra (1972) reveal that a lack of sleep can have a huge impact on a student’s performance at school. Results show that grades are likely to drop if a student doesn’t have much sleep and sleep deprived students are more likely to be late to school as well as being more tired at school so do not focus properly.

      Urponen, H., Vuori, I., Hasan, J., & Partinen, M. (1988). Self-evaluations of factors promoting and disturbing sleep: an epidemiological survey in Finland. Social science & medicine, 26(4), 443-450.

      Paxinos, G., & Bindra, D. (1972). Hypothalamic knife cuts: Effects on eating, drinking, irritability, aggression, and copulation in the male rat. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology, 79(2), 219.

  2. megscurr says:

    I thought it was great how you gave specific detailed examples, good to know omega-3 is in walnuts as well! I found the research on the children with ADHD particularly interesting, and when researching the possibility of zinc being a mineral that could benefit them, came across a paper by Arnold (2005) that made another point. The effects of all of the foods we have been talking about are dependent on the country and diet that the individual is from. They found zinc to be the most effective in Asian populations where zinc was low in their diets. I think that looking into what each culture is lacking in could allow us to make more of an impact with of the research you gave. The benefits could be astounding (although a logistical nightmare).

    You are right, there is no problem in finding the evidence out there, a meta-analysis by Dani, Burril and Demig-Adams supported all of the evidence for the points you made, as well as more! People are clearly making progress in this area, as can be seen by the progress made with school dinners, which have increased for the third year in a row with ‘173,000 more children taking up school meals in the last year’.


    Arnold (2005)

    Dani, Burril and Demig-Adams ://

    Jamie Oliver

  3. rowlatt says:

    A stated in a previous comment, breakfast is a really important part of the day (unfortunately I don’t take part in the breakfast club, not because I’m lazy just I can’t eat in the morning). I decided to look into some research about breakfast:

    A study looked that the relationship between breakfast composition and cognitive performance examined in school children. Two experiments compared the effects of two common breakfast foods and of course a control group of no breakfast on children’s cognition. This study used a within- subject design, which lasted for a 3 week period, children consumed one of two breakfasts or no breakfast and then completed a lot of cognitive tasks.

    The two breakfasts were oatmeal and cereal, which were similar in energy and food components, but had different nutrient characteristics. Results suggested that breakfast intake enhances cognitive performance, particularly when asked to complete tasks that used visual stimuli. Boys and girls showed enhanced spatial memory and girls showed improved short-term memory after consuming oatmeal which I find interesting that there is even a different in food and gender performance. Also girls exhibited better short-term memory after eating oatmeal (Mahoney, Taylor, Kanarek, Samuel, 2005). These results have quite important practical implications, showing the importance of a good breakfast before school.

    Another study that looked at missing a breakfast show similar results

    Participants where split into 3 different groups, stunted, non-stunted and previously severely malnourished (where’s the ethics board when you need them). Participants (children) stays overnight and half of the children received breakfast on their first visit and a cup of tea on their second. Treatment was reversed for the other half of children. When breakfast was omitted, the stunted and previously malnourished group showed similar scores when tested. The malnourished groups had lower scores in fluency and coding while the control group had higher scores in arithmetic. Results such as these indicate that cognitive functioning is more vulnerable when missing breakfast.

    So don’t miss it !

  4. Ben says:

    Very interesting blog there Sinae! Food can certainly have an impact on performance, and the role of glucose in the diet is something that can have an important impact on performance. Wang and Dvorak (2010) suggest that glucose has a positive effect on mental performance, particularly in tasks that require a lot of mental processing. Their argument suggests that drinking a sugary drink before a task increases your ability to think about it in a more long term way, particularly useful when planning assignments and revising.

    White and Wolraich (1995) disagree with this though, suggesting that there is little or no evidence that shows for certain (or as certain as we can be!) that glucose has any effect on our performance. Which is a shame as I thought that my diet of chocolate was actually doing me some good. Turns out it isn’t.

    Although it’s nice to believe that what we eat can help us with our education, it seems that there’s much more research needed before we can conclusively suggest that there’s anything in it.

  5. jmssol says:

    Making sure school children are eating the right foods is extremely important to ensure that they meet their maximum potential within the classroom. As you state, Omega-3 is one of the most important type of foods a student must consume in order to facilitate their academic success. Omega-3 fatty acids have been described as critical to brain functioning and development (Richardson, 2006). Richardson suggests that a lack of omega-3 in a child’s diet may contribute to the onset of neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) which have a knock on effect within education.

    Vitamin supplements have been shown to be beneficial for students. Bacopa Monnieri is a herb that has been shown to improve cognitive functioning including memory; Bacaopa Monneiri supports brain transmitters during memorization (Morgan & Stevens, 2010). Bacopa Monnieri has also been found in increase intellectual activity (Stough et al., 2001). Bacopa Monnieri is an effective vitamin to have during the revision period; high levels of anxiety can lead to procrastination (McLeod & Adams, 1989) and result in the interference or decay of material studied (Tobias, 1979), however Bacopa Monnieri has been found to decrease levels of anxiety and increase concentration (Roodenrys et al., 2002). Additionally, vitamin B-6 supplements such as meats have a positive effect on memory skills such as the storage of information (Deijen, Van Der Beek, Orlebeke, & Van Den Berg, 1992). Students should be encouraged to avoid frozen foods as freezing food decreases the levels of vitamin B-6 (Sauberlich, 1987).

    Eating breakfast is also important to ensure optimum ability in the classroom. Recent studies reveal that prevalence of students missing breakfast has increased and this is associated with negative academic and cognitive consequences including a diminished ability to concentrate (Murphy, 2007). However, eating breakfast is associated with greater performance in examinations (Phillips, 2005).

    Overall, it does seem that food and particular types of foods can assist students in performing well in school.

    Tobias, S. (1979). Anxiety research in educational psychology. Educational Psychology, 71, 573-582.
    Sauberlich, H. (1987). Vitamins – how much is for keeps? Nutrition Today, 22, 20-28.
    Murphy, J. M, (2007). Breakfast and Learning: An Updated Review. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 3(1), 3-36.
    Morgan A, Stevens J. “Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial.” Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2010 Jul;16(7):753-9.
    C. Stough, J. Lloyd, et. al. (2001). “The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects”. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 156 (4): 481-4. doi:10.1007/s002130100815.
    S. Roodenrys, D. Booth, et. al. (2002). “Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory”. Neuropsychopharmacology (Wollongong) 27 (2): 279-81. doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(01)00419-5.
    Richardson, A. J, (2006). Omega-3 fatty acids in ADHD and related neurodevelopmental disorders, International Review of Psychiatry,18(2), 155-172 (doi:10.1080/09540260600583031)
    Deijen, J. B., Van Der Beek, E. J., Orlebeke, J. F., Van Den Berg, H. (1992). Vitamin B-6 supplementation in elderly men: effects on mood, memory, performance and mental effort. Psychopharmacology, 109, 489–496.

    McLeod, D B., & Adams, V. M. (1989). Affect and Mathematical Problem Solving: A New Perspective. Springer-Verlag: New York.

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