What we eat affects Brain and Learning
Research … has revealed a close relationship between diet and the brain — It is becoming clearer that our brain influences what and how we eat, and that what and how we eat influences our brain. —Pierce J. Howard, (The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, p. 138)
Eating healthy food
Eric Jensen, in The Learning Brain(151) says “eating protein can improve your learning.” “The best foods,” he says, “are those high in tyrosine including “eggs, fish, tofu, pork, chicken and yogurt.” You only need three to four ounces of one of these at a meal.
To see how many servings of each type of food daily, look at the Food Pyramid . This pyramid was designed for the usual American diet. The page also describes alternative protein sources that are typical in many places around the world.
None of these diets, however, were designed with the brain in mind. The food pyramid shows what foods should be eaten in a day, but it doesn’t divide it up by meals. This is important.
What to eat with your brain in mind
1. Eat breakfast every day, starting with protein.Your parents probably told you it was important to start the day with a good breakfast, but they didn’t realize how important it was to start with protein. They had no idea that the food you ate affected your brain and your ability to learn.
The breakfast in the picture is fairly healthy. It includes protein in both eggs and meat. You really don’t need both. The toast should be whole grain bread not white bread. The plate includes a few vegetables which is nice but should also include fruit.
If you can’t deal with a meal like this, try cereal with milk or Yogurt (protein) and a piece of fresh fruit.
So what’s new? The FIRST thing you eat should be PROTEIN. You probably won’t notice the difference. I don’t either. But research shows that eating protein first helps the brain and improves learning. Give it a try.
Over the years, numerous tests have shown that students who skip breakfast don’t learn and well. They do poorly on tests. It’s not just your mother who’s telling you this. Research agrees..
2. For lunch, start with protein. If you have a chicken salad, begin with some of the chicken. Starting with a carbohydrate like the lettuce or bread can make you sleepy.
This ham and cheese sandwich with tomato, lettuce and cucumber is a fairly healthy choice for lunch but it would be better with additional vegetables (this doesn’t mean french fries! ) A good salad or piece of fresh fruit would be best. On a cold day, you could add a bowl of soup.
Remember that you need a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day and you can always add more. Try to add milk or other dairy products at every meal. Protein is especially important for breakfast and lunch. You can do with a smaller portion of protein for dinner. (It is interesting that most Americans tend to eat much more protein for dinner.)
3. Sweets: If you really want something sweet or higher in fat like a dish of ice cream or a few cookies, save them for an evening snack after you finish studying. They can make you sleepy.
4. Don’t avoid all fat. You need healthy fats for your brain. Healthy fats come in liquid form. Olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, and similar oils are necessary for a healthy brain. Without enough fat, the cell membranes on the nerves can become brittle and begin to break down. As a result you lose memory and brain function.
Totally fat-free diets are dangerous and can lead to serious problems.
Omega-3 fatty acids come from fish, especially salmon and tuna. This is why eating fish at least twice a week is recommended. They also come in avocados, canola oil and flax-seed (flax-seed can sprinkled in your cereal, salad, or other foods.)
Omega-6 fatty acids come from soybean, safflower, and corn oils as well as fish, poultry and meat. Research shows that if your omega-6 is much higher than the omega-3, it can cause depression. Tuna sandwiches are good for you.
5. It’s best to eat smaller meals and add several snacks a day. If you have difficulty getting enough vegetables, try adding a glass of vegetable juice. That, like fresh fruit, makes a good snack between classes or while you are studying.
6. Try foods that are unfamiliar. Eating a large variety of different foods is likely to provide more of the vitamins and minerals you need. It’s also an interesting part of your education.
7. Because it is hard to be sure you are getting all the very important vitamins and trace minerals, take a good multivitamin with minerals everyday. Be sure it includes iron. We like to think we can get all the vitamins from our food, but we rarely get everything we need.
In one study, students who took multivitamins for a year showed a significant increase in intelligence, especially in the nonverbal areas. Many of these students were not getting enough thiamine. Another study showed that taking vitamin B improved fine-motor skills. Folic Acid and Selenium reduced depression and increased learning. Studies like these go on and on. Take your vitamin with minerals and quit worrying.
8. Don’t take a vitamin with just a glass of water. Always eat something with fat at the same time. Vitamins are fat soluble. Take your vitamin while eating breakfast including eggs, meat, bread and butter, or simply a small handful of nuts. Studies also show that caffeine disturbs absorption of vitamins. Perhaps you should take your vitamin with dinner or in the evening.
Foods to Avoid
1. Avoid or cut back on soft drinks and sweets. Most students know this but rarely act on it. Drink fruit juice, tea or plain water instead. Eat a piece of fresh fruit instead of a candy bar.The sugar in the candy bar may give you energy very briefly, but then you feel too tired to study. Sugar also is bad for your teeth and will contribute to your weight gain in college.
Diet drinks are also a problem. The artificial sweeteners. Aspartame (Nutrasweet or Equal) can sometimes cause headaches, sleep problems, and short attention span. Sucralose (Splenda) is less likely to cause problems.
2. Cut back on Salt. Your body needs some salt but don’t overdo it. When you eat salty foods you need a lot more water for your brain. Instead, try using a variety of other spices.
3. Avoid Saturated Fats. This is the fat on meat. Avoid fried foods. Read the labels and avoid trans fat like lard and margarine. Trans fat shows up in baked goods like cookies and in fried foods. Ask what oil is used before earing french fries. Too much trans fat leads to obesity, diabetes, cancer and problems with your immune system. They also interfere with the absorption of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that your brain needs. While this information was never on the food pyramid, there has been a great deal of information recently in the media. What they don’t tell you is why saturated fats and trans fats are bad for you and how they affect your learning.
4. Avoid all or most alcohol use. It can decrease your ability to learn and remember.
5. Avoid drinking too much caffeine (coffee, tea, most soft drinks). Caffeine can cause difficulties in concentration.
For further information on healthy eating, I’d suggest www.HelpGuide.org