I wonder how often Grade 4 or Year 10 teachers set, for homework, the following: ‘Eat blueberries’. It’s probably pretty uncommon.
It shouldn’t be.
One of the most exciting, emerging areas of educational research, one with potential to significantly impact student learning across the board, is: food.
Research from institutions all over the world is beginning to help us understand, for the first time, the direct impact of different nutrients on cognitive performance. Some of the most interesting findings include:
|Folic acid (leafy green vegetables)||increased memory and information processing speed||Wageningen University, Netherlands|
|Omega-3 fatty acids (fish)||increased brain plasticity, neural efficiency||University of California, USA|
|Anthocyanins (blueberries)||increased long-term memory performance||Tufts University, USA|
But it’s not all good news. It seems that, despite tasting good, processed sugary foods have a harmful impact on cognitive processing (University of Otago, NZ). And a range of studies have indicated a very concerning link between artificially sweetened foods and early damage to to brain cells and impaired cognitive function.
It’s easy to forget that learning is not a psychological process – it’s a physical one. When we help students learn, we are not just helping them understand ideas, we are literally changing their brains. And the building blocks and scaffolding for all of this brain construction come directly from the food we eat.
This research is still in its infancy, but ultimately, we may well discover that the quality of food students eat long-term, has as much impact on their learning, memory and performance as the quality of teaching they are exposed to.
As wellbeing becomes increasingly prioritised by schools around the world, we need to integrate knowledge, not just from human and psychological sciences, but also from nutritional science. Feeling good and doing good depends on eating well.