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Foods for Thought and Learning

Bob Little 

December 2, 2016

If it’s true that “you are what you eat,” then maybe billionaires should fear ambitious would-be cannibals.

The flaws in the logic that led to that sentence have been widely recognized for many centuries. However, there appears to be evidence – increasingly endorsed by scientific research – that foods can help or hinder humans to function efficiently. Sports players have their special dietary regimes, which are intended to allow them to achieve peak performance when required, but, as yet, similar regimes aren’t openly encouraged in the corporate world.

Nonetheless, enabling your workers to perform consistently to the best of their ability is a key requirement in today’s increasingly competitive business world. Among other things, it’s a major justification for having a corporate L&D function.

So, from a self-development perspective, what foods should you eat if you want to perform at your peak at work? Moreover, from a corporate perspective, what foods should you ensure that delegates on L&D programs eat to maximize their chances of learning what they’re supposed to learn?

Dr Josh Axe‘s list of the 15 best brain foods are:

  • Avocados.
  • Beets.
  • Blueberries.
  • Beef bone broth.
  • Broccoli.
  • Celery.
  • Coconut oil.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Egg yolks.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Green, leafy vegetables.
  • Rosemary.
  • Salmon.
  • Turmeric.
  • Walnuts.

Ryan Mutt believes that “people suffering from poor memory retention could be improved by following a suitable diet,” and adds, “Don’t ignore the harmful effects of the excess intake of carbohydrate and sugar in regular diet.”

Ryan’s recipe for a memory-improving diet includes:

  • Proteins and antioxidants – as in the “Atkins Diet” – including milk, eggs and nuts.
  • Iron-rich food, such as green vegetables, egg yolks and red meat.
  • Food containing essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as omega-3 – found in freshwater fish but also in salmon, tuna and sardines.
  • Fruits and vegetables containing vitamins C and E – such as papayas, carrots, bananas, and bell peppers.
  • Foods containing magnesium – including spinach and broccoli.

Marisa Moore advises that, “The best menu for boosting memory and brain function encourages good blood flow to the brain. A recent study found that the Mediterranean Diet helps in keeping aging brains sharp, and a growing body of evidence links foods like those in the Mediterranean Diet with better cognitive function, memory and alertness.”

She recommends eating:

  • Vegetables, especially cruciferous ones including broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens.
  • Berries — especially dark ones, such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries.
  • EFAs – as found in seafood, algae and fatty fish, including salmon, Bluefin tuna, sardines, and herring.

“These foods aren’t just good for the brain, they sustain a healthy heart and all parts of the body,” says Marisa. “While there’s no guarantee these foods will help you remember where you put your keys tomorrow, over time they can support lifelong good health.”

Writing on the BBC’s Good Food website, Jo Lewin champions a diet involving:

  • Whole grains with a low Glycemic Index (GI), which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Jo advocates eating “brown” wholegrain cereals, granary bread, rice, and pasta.
  • EFAs – from oily fish (especially salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers) and plant sources, such as linseed (flax seed), soya beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and their oils. Jo adds, “Consider a supplement if you’re vegetarian. Those following a vegan diet may wish to supplement daily with a plant-based omega-3 supplement and, as a vegan, don’t forget to add seeds like linseed and chia to your diet.”
  • Blueberries – since evidence accumulated at Tufts University suggests that consuming blueberries may be effective in improving memory or delaying short-term memory loss.
  • Tomatoes – since evidence suggests that lycopene, an antioxidant that they contain, could help to protect against the cell damage that occurs in the development of dementia.
  • Vitamins, especially B6, B12 and folic acid, which reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. So, eat B-rich foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, and leafy greens.
  • Blackcurrants, red peppers, citrus fruits, and broccoli – for vitamin C, which is thought to increase mental agility and protect against age-related brain degeneration, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Pumpkin seeds, which are rich in zinc – and zinc can aid memory and thinking skills.
  • Broccoli – a source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.
  • Sage – which, over the years, has built a reputation for improving memory and concentration.
  • Walnuts, as a source of vitamin E – since a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that it could help to prevent cognitive decline. Sources of vitamin E include nuts, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice, and whole grains.

The advice from an Australian schools’ website is to give children a breakfast rich in proteins, such as eggs and milk, to boost their brain power.

“Having a higher protein, lower carbohydrate breakfast enhances concentration and memory,” says Andrew Fuller, a fellow at the University of Melbourne’s departments of Psychiatry and Learning and Educational Development. “If you want your kids to be on top of the game, they need to have an optimal brain and you only get an optimal brain if you sleep well, eat well, live well.”

He adds that children with learning problems and behavioral issues often show substantial deficiencies in vitamins when assessed.

Rick and Teena Kamal, of Marlborough MA- based EduNova, argue that the 10 best “brain foods” are:

  • Fish – for EFAs.
  • Nuts – for EFAs and iron.
  • Whole grains.
  • Apples.
  • Cruciferous vegetables – such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. A long-term study conducted by Harvard Medical School has revealed that eating these types of vegetables had the most positive effect on memory retention.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Spinach – for its folic acid.
  • Berries.
  • Legumes – such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils.
  • Onions.

While individual experts’ opinions and preferences differ – as you’d expect – there’s a remarkable consistency and consensus about the sorts of foods that benefit our brains and, so, can help us produce peak mental performance. This is true both for the classroom and the workplace.

With Western culture about to over-indulge in the Festive Season, there appears to be little chance to put this sound dietary advice into practice instantly – but, maybe, it could form the basis for some serious New Year’s Resolutions.

L&D – and business – survival may depend upon it!

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