It is vital to consider balanced nutrition for students and people of all ages as it plays an integral role in how the brain processes and retains information. Scholastic performance and memory are directly linked to what people feed themselves every day. Poor diet leads to compromised cognition, while a balanced diet containing proper vitamins and minerals fosters optimal brain function (Toni & Charles, 2011). “Everything the brain does, begins with the raw materials you put into it: the air you breathe, the water you drink, and, last but far from least, the food you eat” (Rimland, 2007, p. 75). Not only is food vital to create the proper chemical levels to transmit information, nutrients are also directly related to building brain cells.
Learning is the “process of acquiring knowledge or skill” (Learning, 1988, p. 765). People acquire new knowledge and skills in many different and unique ways. However, the capacity in which people are able to do so is dependent on many factors including one of high importance: nutrition. Nutrition plays a large and critical role in the level and capacity of our brain functions (Rimland, 2007). Rimland indicates that “Your brain and your gut are exquisitely interconnected, and what you eat has a lot to do with how well you think” (2007, p. 75).
Research suggests that Americans are eating themselves into a fog due to the foods that a typical American consumes. Cognitive diseases that were once believed to be psychologically related are actually directly related to nutrition. The brain conditions and diseases resulting from eating a diet stripped of nutrients can be as severe as learning disabilities such as ADD, hyperactivity, and dyslexia (Rimland, B., 2007).
Memory is also a key player of proper brain function. “Healthy brains retain and improve their cognitive and memory capacities. Loss of mental function includes death of neurons and impaired communication between brain cells” (Kalush, 2012). If a person would like to improve and maintain their memory, the proper foods consumed may greatly improve the life and vitality of neurons and brain cells. The health of neurons are important in making appropriate connections for remembering key facts and information in daily life and learning (Kalush, 2012).
Recent studies suggests that learning in public schools has become more challenging than ever. As noted by Rimland (2007), Appleton Central Alternative High School was on the brink of destruction from violent and unruly teenagers. Not unlike many schools of today, they had to bring in a police officer in an attempt to keep the peace. However, the children of Appleton High did a complete 360 by taking out all junk foods in their lunches and replacing it with non-processed foods such as whole vegetables, fruits, and grains. Even the soda machines were replaced with low-sugar drinks. Ever since the school switched to a whole-foods diet, they have reported zero incidences such as violence or expulsions! The superintendent exclaimed, “We believed it would help settle the kids down, which it has done, but I think we were surprised at the impact that it's had on academic learning” (Rimland, 2007, p. 79).
The results that Appleton High experienced suggests that there is a simple solution to achieving a higher level of academia in schools–replacing junk foods with whole-foods. Dr. Kalush indicates in his 2012 article that the brain will have significant benefits from a person eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Foods containing vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants such as fruits and vegetables are key for keeping the inflammation in the body down, decreasing risk for disease and increasing brain power. “research has shown that such diets can prevent or lessen processes leading to Alzheimer’s dementia as well as improving cognitive and memory functions” (Kalush, 2012, p. 1).
There are specific vitamins and minerals that are key players in maintaining a high level of cognitive function. For instance, an iron deficiency can result in impaired learning or even violence (Rimland, 2007). Many behavioral conditions such as ADHD and depression have been linked to deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids (Rimland, B., 2007). Chronic low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to many cognitive problems such as “spatial skills, short-term memory, and fluid intelligence” (Rimland, 2007, p. 84). Learning issues and memory problems have also been linked to zinc deficiencies.
The best place to get these vital nutrients are from plant-based sources as they do not contain the cholesterol, antibiotics, and hormones that animal meat has. When a person consumes animal meat, they consume dangerous cholesterol and saturated fat that clog arteries which can cut off blood supply to the brain (PETA 2012). The brain needs blood flow in order for it to receive vital nutrients to function.
Research shows that zinc, vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids are a few key nutrients for optimal brain function (Rimland, 2007). Zinc is found in nuts, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and whole grains (such as wheat, barley, and millet) (PETA 2012). Vitamin B12 originates from the dirt and is best received through nutritional yeast or supplements. Great iron sources are spinach, nuts, seeds, legumes, and molasses (PETA, 2012). Walnuts and flax seeds are a great place for omega-3 fatty acids as well as DHA supplements which is a form of algae (PETA, 2012). This form of DHA is much safer than consuming fish products as fish is full of cholesterol and toxins (PETA, 2012). Dr. Kalush (2012) recommends 10 super brain foods: “Blueberries, cooked artichokes, black plums, pecans, blackberries, walnuts, raspberries, raw asparagus, strawberries, and red cabbage.” These foods contain a wide range of key nutrients and anti-oxidants for the brain.
Not only are vitamins and minerals vital for learning, consuming the appropriate amount of calories (energy) in each day is equally important. It is vital to regulate the amount of calories one consumes to ensure they do not over or under consume. If a person under consumes calories for the day, they will not have enough energy for the brain to feed off of. If one over consumes, the digestive system will be working overtime which is a dis-proportioned way to expend energy. The brain needs amino acids (protein) to function properly. Good sources of amino acids can be found in many, many foods, but the best sources are legumes, soybeans, broccoli, oats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and spinach (PETA, 2012). Getting the appropriate amounts of food throughout each day is also required in order to maintain a positive disposition, high level of attention, and good motivation (Toni & Charles, 2011). According to Toni, M. B., & Charles H. H., (2011), even skipping breakfast causes a marketable decline in school children's brain function.
There are many consequences to poor nutrition. Adverse consequences can be avoided by simply adopting a balanced plant-based diet. However, Rimland explains that deficiencies in nutrients can "lead to sub-clinical, easy-to-overlook brain dysfunction that translates into hyperactivity, poor attention, irritability, depression, mania, or learning or memory problems” (2007, p. 77). Doctors who treat children with dyslexia, hyperactivity and other learning issues are reporting that they have seen a dramatic rise in cases just within the last 10 years and the demand for special education is exploding (Rimland, B., 2007).
A diet full of vitamins and minerals can protect a child from developing learning disabilities and behavioral problems. By avoiding the onset of these conditions, it will make a smoother lifetime of learning which will save a family from opening their pocketbooks to healthcare and tutoring expenses. Not having to rely on expensive tutors, doctors, and other practitioners will allow a person and their family to be more independent and less burdensome on society and loved ones.
Benefits of proper nutrition for better scholastic performance and learning capacity can be experienced all throughout life. Everything that a person consumes directly correlates with how their brain functions and their susceptibility to diseases and disorders of the brain. Research clearly shows that the increase of plant-based whole-foods can increase a person's cognitive function and scholastic achievement. By adopting a lifestyle of eating balanced foods with key vitamins and minerals, a person can enjoy a healthy brain to lead them through all stages of life and learning.
Kalush S. (August 31, 2012). To your health, be good to your brain. Message posted to http://www.friendshipcenters.org/WhatsNew/Blogs/tabid/142/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/133/To-Your-Health-Be-Good-to-Your-Brain.aspx
Learning. (1988) In Webster's New World Dictionary (3rd Ed.). New York, NY: Webster's New World Dictionaries A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
PETA (2012). A vegan’s guide to good nutrition. Retrieved September 16, 2012 from http://www.PETA.org/living/vegetarian-living/a-vegans-guide-to-good-nutrition.aspx
Rimland, B. (2007). Dyslogic syndrome: why millions of kids are 'hyper', attention-disordered, learning disabled, depressed, aggressive, defiant, or violent and what we can do about it. London GBR: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Toni, M. B., & Charles H. H., (2011). A narrative review of physical activity, nutrition, and obesity to cognition and scholastic performance across the human lifespan. Advances in Nutrition, an International Review Journal, 2(2), 201S–206S. doi: 10.3945/an.111.000331