Brain Fuel: What Knoxville Kids Eat Can Affect Their Ability To Learn

3 min read

Brain Fuel: What Knoxville Kids Eat Can Affect Their Ability To Learn

We all know that the foods our kids eat can have a dramatic impact on their health. But did you know that dietary choices can affect their ability – or inability – to learn?

Foods high in caffeine, sugar, sodium, and other chemicals can leave young learners tired and unable to focus, sick, or incapable of sitting still. These food effects not only impact their grades but their overall behavior and mood as well.

That’s why programs like the Power of Produce (POP Club) at Nourish Knoxville is making such a difference in the community.

No Energy? No Focus

Studies show that diets high in saturated fats hinder memory and impede learning. High-fat diets can ‘worsen cognitive issues’ according to The Society of Neuroscience. And moreover, a reduction of  “dietary fat and empty calories” has been linked to improved memory.

Sadly, high-fat foods are often the most economical and therefore the foods most often provided by schools. Kids fill up on chicken nuggets, french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, fish sticks, macaroni and cheese – not to mention super sweet desserts and drinks – and then head back to the classroom unfit for the afternoon ahead of them. Their stomachs are full, but their brainpower is significantly restricted.

The link between brainpower and saturated fats is the effect of sugar and glucose in the high-fat food. Glucose is vital for energy. But foods that are high in glucose can have the opposite effect, causing energy levels to drop.  To break down food, our bodies release insulin as we ingest glucose. And after a healthy meal, with lower levels of saturated fats, glucose levels will rise slightly, and we feel energized for having eaten.

But when we eat something super high in glucose, we experience a drop in energy. What we call a ‘sugar crash’ is really just the body’s method of trying to cope. Because high glucose meals raise blood sugar levels so significantly, our bodies begin to shut down in an effort to process that high-fat, high-glucose food. Children who eat fried, sugary cafeteria foods will experience a drop in focus, energy, and mental performance as their body struggles to break down the meal. A long-term, high-glucose diet can cause impact kidney function and even cause eye and nerve damage. And as if that wasn’t enough, high-glucose foods cause lethargy, irritability, and a failure to focus.

Children Are What They Eat

We’ve all seen or experienced the hyperactive burst or emotional tantrum that can follow a high-sugar snack, but the impact of what children eat doesn’t stop there.

  • students who skip breakfast have reduced cognitive performances (such as alertness, memory, attention, and problem solving);
  • students who consume inadequate amounts of fruits and vegetables typically have lower grades than their counterparts who eat a well-rounded diet; and
  • students with diets deficient in calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamins (A, B6, B12, & C) are linked to higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness.

Brain Fuel

For students to learn they need to nourish their bodies and their minds. That’s why our Healthy Hot Lunch program includes

  • Healthy Fats

A diet rich in healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – including omega-3s) found in legumes, eggs, fish, lean meats, and more, helps the brain maintain dynamic membranes that receive and transmit information while performing many additional critical functions.

  • Complex Carbohydrates

Carbs are brain energy. And while sugar is the primary brain fuel, the source of that sugars is so important. Simple carbs disrupt concentration and destabilize blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, oatmeal, peas, quinoa, and lentils, are rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that feed the body and the brain.

  • Proteins

Proteins from foods such a grilled or baked meats & fish and raw nuts, provide the brain’s building blocks (amino acids) that create new neuropathways while learning. It also protects certain cell components from brain damage.

  • Quality Sourced Water

Quality sourced water is life. It is critical for brain function and health. Dehydration can cause cognitive decline and prevent your child’s brain from working to its potential.

Helping Kids in Knoxville Make Smart Food Choices

Healthy meals and in-between meals snacks made from natural fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains are vital to learning. They’re also habit forming. Research shows that healthy eating habits established in childhood stay with us for life. And while an occasional plate of french fries is fun, too many could be setting your child up for avoidable learning difficulties.

The PoP Club is helping to create good habits by not only creating an engaging chance for kids to benefit nutritionally but also providing an opportunity for them to become informed about their local food system. From talking directly with local farmers to playing educational games, PoP Club helps kids to learn how to make smart food choices – including giving them vouchers they can ‘spend’ at their Nourish Knoxville markets, further helping to encourage healthy independent food habits.

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