I’ve recently come upon a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in November 2013. The article discusses the results of a survey conducted in four European countries concerning the effect that food has on learning and mental performance in primary school children. The survey participants were all parents. The results of the survey are interesting, as they reflect the opinions and perceptions of an array of parents regarding the connections they associate with how food, biology, the school environment, social factors, psychological factors and physical factors affect a child’s ability to learn. The study broke up “mental performance” into four main elements: attention, learning, mood, and behavior.
Unanimously across the four countries, the parents felt that sleep and activity as well as mood and behavior were more important factors affecting learning than food. Parents agreed that the regularity of meals had the most powerful perceived effect of food on mental performance. I was surprised that there was no correlation made between how food affects activity and sleep and also mood and behavior. Simply put, if we eat whole-food, plant-based meals, we naturally become more active with an agreeable and even mood.
Healthy children are naturally curious. Healthy food fosters natural curiosity and a desire to learn. Healthy food and good eating habits strengthens digestion, which helps develops stronger thinking ability and memory. This is because our digestive system is our body’s second nervous system made up of the same types of cells. A useful thing to remember is that healthy digestion promotes healthy thinking.
It was also interesting to me that family meals were not part of this study in relation to food or social aspects to learning. A family meal is a time where we eat and talk together without distraction. Recent research has indicated that family meals reduce the risk of obesity and substance abuse. Family meals encourage children to think about the future in the company of supportive, engaged family members.
As studies such as these begin to publish with more regularity, I feel as if “The Great Life Diet” would be a great educational tool for children and parents alike.