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Prairie Fare: Nourish Your Brain for Learning

Researchers have linked good nutrition with better academic performance.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“I’m done studying at last!” I gleefully thought to myself as I accepted my doctorate diploma.

Boy was I wrong.

In college, I chose to study nutrition and food science/safety. The topics were interesting to me. They’re also huge, ever-changing fields of study.

Now, 14 years later, contrary to my original thoughts, I spend time every day studying and keeping up in my field. As I raise my own children, I hope I’m inspiring them to enjoy learning new things when they see me reading articles and books.

Of course, being a nutrition specialist, I also hope that I’m inspiring my kids to eat healthy meals by providing nutritious food and eating it with them. Like other parents, I want them to be healthy now and in the future.

Is there a link between good nutrition and learning? In other words, does providing your body and brain with the “right fuel” enhance your ability to learn?

According to much research, the answer is “yes!”

Researchers have linked good nutrition with better academic performance. For example, in school situations, hungry children are more likely to perform poorly on schoolwork and they’re more likely to have behavioral issues, compared with children who are well-nourished.

Undernourished children are more likely to get sick, too. This results in higher rates of being tardy or missing school.

Despite the national concern about child and adult obesity, overall, we as a nation are considered overfed but undernourished. Good nutrition isn’t just about “being full.” We need adequate protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals to maintain physical health and our ability to learn.

Iron, for example, continues to be a nutritional issue in the U.S., especially among children. Too little iron can result in fatigue, decreased attention span and lower ability to concentrate. As with any nutrient, we need enough iron, but not too much.

Iron is found in meat, fish, poultry, fortified grain products, raisins, cooked dry edible beans and leafy greens. Iron from plant sources is absorbed less well than iron from animal sources.

As colleges and schools begin their classes and we continue our lifelong learning, keep these tips in mind:

  • Fuel your body and brain with a balanced breakfast every day. Try to have three different food groups represented on your breakfast menu. Your breakfast will stick with you longer if you include some protein, such as an egg. Take advantage of school breakfast programs for kids, too.
  • Keep yourself hydrated. The human brain is about 75 percent water, so even mild dehydration can affect thinking ability. Focus on healthful beverages, such as fat-free milk, water and 100 percent juice.
  • Eat regular meals and snacks. Think of snacks as “minimeals” to fill nutrition gaps. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, have a piece of fruit, veggies and low-fat dip, a handful of nuts, whole-grain crackers and string cheese or yogurt with fruit.
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. Let the information found at be your guide for the latest nutrition advice.

Try this recipe for breakfast, a dessert or snack.

Breakfast Parfait

2 c. canned pineapple, drained and chopped

1 c. berries (blueberries, strawberries, frozen/thawed or fresh)

1 c. low-fat vanilla yogurt

1 banana, sliced

1/3 c. raisins

In glasses or bowls, layer pineapple, berries, yogurt, banana and raisins. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 44 g of carbohydrate, 45 percent of the daily vitamin C recommendation and 15 percent of the daily calcium recommendation.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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