Do food choices affect learning?

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Your brain on food: How diet shapes brain health

The belief that what we eat affects how we think and feel has been central to human culture, and even before the breakthroughs of modern medicine, we believed that foods possessed a heap of interesting properties, some of which were proven to be true. The way in which food affects the brain has become particularly important in our day and age, as the incidence of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension continues to surge. But food can also help us become more competitive. In a world where intelligence drives society forward, our food choices can make us or breaks us as we strive to achieve our full potential.

Certain foods can make you smarter

Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at UCLA explained, in a 2008 medical review, that food functions much like a drug, and that dietary changes have the potential to either enhance cognitive abilities and protect neural tissue, or to exhaust and burden the brain.

He looked at over 150 studies, and found that some specific nutrients play important roles in boosting mental abilities. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish and nuts, are essential not only for early brain development, but will also support long term memory and learning abilities as we age.

Eating too much, even if it’s high quality food, can also have detrimental effects on the brain. Excess calories have been found to reduce the flexibility of synaptic connections between neurons, as well as diminish cell life-span. Moreover, the brain is the primary target of free radicals, making antioxidant rich foods (like berries, broccoli, green tea and carrots) crucial to maintain long-term brain health.

The brain dictates our eating habits

One recent study confirmed this relationship, revealing that obesity makes it harder for the brain to carry out complex decision-making tasks. This essential means that the dietary choices of an obese individual are more likely to be poorer than those of an average person.

A different study showed that the principles which lead to food addiction and drug addiction are essentially the same: the brain assigns value to a food item based on how pleasurable it is, so naturally, items that taste good trigger the reward system in the brain. But this natural reward mechanism also holds the key to beating addiction, as some scientists have suggested.

Simple tricks, like having a balanced eating schedule, and eating a hearty breakfast, can help the brain become less responsive to images of unhealthy foods. Both testimonials and medical evidence show that focusing on personal development, in tandem with improving one’s quality of life, is crucial in overcoming the psychological mechanisms that make addiction possible. What’s more is that scientists warn than focusing solely on cutting down calories may cause the brain to “panic” and store calories even easier, sabotaging weight loss attempts.

Studies that aim to delve into the relationship between food and the brain continue to be published every year, as more and more scientists recognize the value in understanding the complexities of human nutrition.

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