If you want to learn better, eat better

Our brains need food. This is, pardon the pun, a no-brainer. Without nourishment, our bodies and our brains can’t flourish. How much we eat and what we eat affect our brains. For instance, as Sandrine Thurin in her TEDxTalk states, referred to in another post, proper nutrition can help us generate new neurons in our brains.

Proper nutrition is a second basic requirement, besides sleep, our brains need to learn well. This was discovered, for instance, in in American schools. Sam Kass in his gripping and important TEDtalk about “Want kids to learn better: Feed them”, which describes clearly how nutrition impacts our health and our learning outcomes. It is a basic requirement, because if our bodies are starving or lacking in vital nutrients, it is unrealistic to believe we can learn well and effectively.

Sam Kass describes a program in school, where they gave out breakfast and lunch to each kid for free. The result was that the students reading scores went up by 17,5% and their chances of graduating went up by 20%. He says “When we give our kids the nourishment they need, we give them the chance to thrive, both in the classroom and beyond”.

In Finland, where I’m from, and from where received my schooling up to doctorate and still live in, this is one of the things we do. We feed our school children for free every school day. Granted, they don’t have breakfast, but each child has a school dinner and they have had this since 1943 (if you can understand Finnish, you can read more about this here). The only countries in the world giving food to children as a part of the curriculum, based on the linked Finnish article, are Finland and Sweden.

Personally, I believe this is one of the things that differentiate Finland and why we have such good results in school as demonstrated in Pisa-studies. It is not, by far, the only thing, as Sweden also gives their kids lunch and their results are not the same. But it is one strong base. The school lunches are also nourishing and healthy. Without hunger pains and proper nutrition our kids can focus better on learning.

I expect we will be hearing more about the best nutrition for our brains as more research is carried out, but Sandrine Thuret in her TEDxTalk describes a good diet to get us going and promoting neurogenesis (= generating new neurons – for my previous text on neurogenesis and neuroplasticity read more here):

Helps create new brain cells:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids (found f.ex. in fatty fish like salmon, chia seeds and some other seeds, walnuts)
  • blueberries
  • folic acid (found f.ex. in dark leafy greens, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, avocado, nuts and seeds, cauliflower, carrots)
  • zinc (found f.ex. in dark chocolate, garlic, sesame seeds, chickpeas)
  • caffeine
  • intermittent fasting
  • caloric restriction

Hinders new brain cell creation:

  • diet high in fat
  • diet high in sugar
  • alcohol
  • soft foods (it seems our brains like mastication – the process of chewing)

So, if you want to improve your learning or your childrens’ learning, one way to go about it is to improve your, and their, diet.

 

 

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