A healthy diet helps everyone function at their best, but for students it is especially important. Students need the strength from good nutrients to attend school and keep up with the mental demands of the school day. Healthy eating promotes the ability to learn or do better on exams.
Getting Enough Calories
Christopher Duggen, M.D. claims in his book, "Nutrition in Pediatrics: Basic Science, Clinical Applications," that children eating an unhealthy diet or not getting enough food triggers an overproduction of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can impair memory, learning, concentration, and impulses. The National Bureau of Economic Research also showed the importance of eating enough food as they found that students who get enough calories on testing days scored higher compared to those who do not. While making sure enough calories are consumed on test days impacts student scores, healthy food choices play a more vital role.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A key nutrient for students is Omega-3 fatty acids. A study conducted by UCLA and reported in the July 2008 issue of "Nature Views Neuroscience" examined the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids on student performance. According to the research, Omega-3 fatty acids promote learning and memory. Students aged 6-12 who were given a nutritional drink containing Omega-3 for a period of six months scored higher on a test assessing verbal intelligence, learning, and memory than the control group that did not receive the drink.
Healthier School Lunches
Some schools promote healthy eating to improve the student behavior and success. An alternative high school, Appleton Central, located in Appleton, Wisconsin, got rid of soda and vending machines. They replaced processed foods in the cafeteria with whole foods and fresh produce and have seen student grades and test scores improve as well as a decrease in behavior problems in the ten years since the changes were made. Similarly, a 2009 Essex University study shows that a diet that was designed by Whole Foods Chef Jamie Oliver implemented in schools both raised test scores and lowered absences due to illness.
It Starts With Breakfast
Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. A Spanish study, "Relation Between the Breakfast Quality and the Academic Performance in Adolescents of Guadalajara," in the July-August 2008 issue of the journal "Nutricion Hospitalaria," shows that those who skip or eat a poor breakfast have lower test scores than those who start the day with a healthy meal. This research also notes that some mental processes such a concentration, comprehension, and memory were more affected than other mental processes by food choice.
- SF Gate: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Food in Student Performance
- National Bureau of Economic Research: Eating Your Way to Higher Test Scores
- UCLA Newsroom: Scientists Discover What you Eat Affects Your Brain -- and Those of Your Kids
- Natural News: Jamie Oliver Proves It: Healthy Food Raise Student Test Scores
Jennifer Cutler is a licensed educator in Virginia and has experience in both private and public schools. She has a Masters degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with concentrations in early childhood, teaching English as a second language and anthropology.