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Fueling our Bodies for Cognitive Performance

09/01/2014 07:00AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

It’s right around the corner…oops, it’s here!  The school season is upon us and our daily schedules have already taken a drastic change in activities and food choices.

We have a vision for our children’s academic future and try to expose them to a multitude of musical, sports and cultural activities and environments, but do we have a vision for fueling these activities?  Do we know and understand what and why we eat particular foods and make certain choices when it comes to grabbing “fast food?”

In order for the brain and the body to perform at their best, one of the vital things necessary is proper food or, as I like to refer to it as, fuel.  Fuels are any materials that store potential energy in forms that can be practicably released and used for work or as heat energy.  Each machine operates with an optimal fuel source. 

Why is the proper fuel important?  
Initial research into nutrition focused on health rather than physical or cognitive function.  What has grown is the insight into improved nutrition on academic performance and student behavior.  

More recent studies have demonstrated how the quality of nutrition can directly affect the mental capacity amongst our students and, if I may add, us.  Carbohydrate and amino acid supplements have been shown to improve reasoning, perception and intuition.  Proper nutrient intake has also been shown to influence the intelligence and cognitive ability of school-aged kids.

An added benefit that is often not considered is behavior.  As students consume better foods, they get sick less and thus have fewer absences, attend more classes and are present to learn more information.  They have been shown to be more alert, less fatigued, and less disruptive, leading to a better classroom environment for all, including the teacher.  Woot!

What is the proper fuel?
After watching my food intake for almost 30 years (beginning with high school sports and continuing as an adult) and adding in a formal exercise science education and mainstream diet books, I have seen nutritional advice wrapped up in a couple of phrases:

“If man made it, don’t eat it.” ~ Jack LaLanne 
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats.  

I have found the further we get from these two basic, almost synonymous, statements, the closer we get to weakness and sickness.  It is easy to search the web for “super-foods” or the best foods to eat.  It is much more difficult to change our lifestyle and habits over the long term to improve our function.

If these considerations are taken into account, we have the ability to not only influence ourselves and our families, but our children’s classmates as well.
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