Making connections, finding meaning, and solving problems are learning tasks that require lightning-fast electrical impulses between areas of the brain It's 5:30pm. You just arrived for your class after a long day at work. You have prepared yourself for this learning experience of visual input, hands-on activities, reading and experimentation - to absorb as much as possible (Norman). You look around your class room, do you see bright eyes and positive, expectant expressions, or do you see squirming, sleeping, or distracted fellow students. Do you notice if your peers are stressed, depressed and anxious?
According to experts, the internal environment of the brain is an integral part of learning, just as important as the classroom environment. You may find in some cases students are not able to learn due to poor nutrition or inadequate hydration (Norman). A balance diet is critical to health, and physicians are concerned about today’s increased marketing of junk food and fast food. A trend that so alarming that some have termed it the next “tobacco” (Jenkins). Within your brain, a biochemical process of learning is occurring, that parallels the classroom experience.
Making connections, finding meaning, and solving problems are learning tasks that require lightning-fast electrical impulses between areas of the brain. Formation of memory requires physical growth and reshaping of networks of brain cells. So that wonderful experience - when the lights go on and you say, "I get it! " - is a neurochemical process as well as an academic one. By nourishing the brain with healthy food and water, you will optimize the internal environment, enabling you to truly engage in the classroom environment and achieve your potential by knowing what your brain needs (Norman).
The nutrients that help our brains work well are found in high concentration in the Mediterranean diet (Jenkins). Place your two fists together, with your inner wrists touching. Your brain is about this size and shape. Most of us have seen the rubbery pink models which aren’t a good representation; the brain is amazingly soft, composed primarily of fat and water. It is grayish and pudding-like - composed of 100 billion brain cells - called neurons that drive our thinking, learning, feeling and states of being. Neurons need good fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, micronutrients - vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and water.
These nutrients are necessary to power the learning functions of neurons. It’s amazing how our neurons connect (Norman). Just imagine your neurons are shaped like an outstretched hand, with fingers spread. Dendrites (fingers) receive information from other neurons, which is then sent through the axon (arm) to another neuron. The connection between two cells is called a synapse, where the dendrite of one cell nearly touches the body or axon of another cell. Neurons can connect multiple times with the same cell; grow extensions to connect with distant cells, and connect with many different cells at once by growing more dendrites.
The brain is dynamic, responsive, and efficient: new connections will be made to record and integrate new information learned. Old, unused connections will be pruned away. This process of building and pruning is not confined to the time of the classroom experience, but continually evolves with all learning that occurs in your life, integrating what is learned within and outside the classroom, integrating life's experiences into the knowledge base and personality we have. The raw material for building and pruning of these connections comes from the food we eat. The big question is what should we feed our brains and body (Norman)?
In past years fat was considered an unhealthy part of your diet, now we know that good fats are essential. Our solid matter of the brain is 60% fat, being that our brain consists largely of fatty membranes. Most brain fats are polyunsaturated, meaning their structure contains few or no double bonds which makes the molecules flexible. These fats help maintain flexible, dynamic membranes that are able to transmit and receive information, and maintain other cell functions such as energy production and stores water. Cholesterol is a saturated fat that is often linked Adkisson 4 ith heart disease, but the right cholesterol is an important part of a healthy brain. Sufficient quantities of cholesterol are manufactured in the body without dietary sources. Fat provides energy for the brain as well as a transformation using B-vitamins and other trace nutrients within the neuron to produce pure ATP. The best fats to consume are omega-3 oils from fish, nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens. The next ingredient provides the building blocks of our entire body (Norman). Protein provides amino acids that are used to form our neurotransmitters (NT) and support structures in neurons.
Tryptophan from turkey and milk is used to produce serotonin, an NT creating feelings of well-being. Tyrosine, an amino acid found in almonds, an avocado, bananas and meat, is used to make dopamine, associated with enthusiasm (Norman). Our bodies produce about half of the twenty amino acids it needs the other ten are obtained from the foods we eat (Jenkins). Amino acids are also reassembled into powerful antioxidants that are used to protect DNA and other cell components from damage. Proteins also form receptors; structures embedded in membranes that aid in cell communication.
All of us need energy and the best was to get it is through the following (Norman). Carbohydrates are the number one energy source for our brain. Sugar is the main fuel for the brain. Most of us have noticed a boost of energy when we eat something that provides sugar. Keep in mind that consuming excessive sugar for breakfast, causing bursts of energy followed by headaches, trouble concentrating, or drowsiness. When our sugar levels rise in our bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, which directs sugar into cells, to keep our blood sugar at a stable level.
The more sugar we eat causes more insulin to be released, which leads to drowsiness. Many persons instinctively reach for more sugar to boost their energy, thus initiating this cycle again. People, who begin their day with a large donut and sugary juice drink, have a candy bar for a snack, followed by a soda afterwards. This becomes an addiction that’s very difficult to overcome the awful rollercoaster effect of the sugar-insulin response. The best way to overcome it is to make sure your meals contain complex carbohydrates - i. e. whole grains or products made with whole grain flour, rather than refined sugars.
Nonetheless, the absorption rate of refined sugar is generally higher, causing a greater release of insulin. One must not forget the next very important ingredient that 60% of our bodies are made up of (Norman). I’m so amazed with the way our neurons store water in tiny balloon-like structures called vacuoles. Water is necessary for optimal brain health and function. Water maintains the tone of our membranes for normal neurotransmission. It improves our circulation and helps in removing wastes. It also keeps our brain from overheating; lack of water could cause serious damage. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities. Even mild levels of dehydration can impact learning performance. It is interesting to note that hydration has been found to affect exercise tolerance. People who are dehydrated tend to feel tired during exercise and avoid activity, a risk factor for obesity. When you are hydrated well before exercise and drink water while exercising leads to an enjoyable experience with less fatigue. It’s encouragement to keep a water bottle at you desk to sip throughout your classes to achieve the recommended intake of water throughout the day.
Nutrition and hydration make a difference that helps the foundation for healthy learning. Making healthier choices is an essential part of your education and well-being. Keep water bottle at your desk throughout your class periods. Eat healthy treats such as whole fruit, whole grain crackers, and veggies. Learn how to choose the healthiest foods from the menus at the mall or carry a lunch. Incorporate healthy nutrition at work and home. By making these small changes you’ll be more attentive, and able to enjoy learning and improve you and your families’ lives (Norman). We all have a gift from God, our bodies are temples.
We need to take care of it by feeding it properly, exercising and keeping it healthy. Some of us do not do that, unfortunately. We live in an unhealthy nation. There are steps we can take to make changes that can improve our academic success and lives. Sixty percent of our brain is made up of good fats that we should ensure we get. Proteins support structures in neurons. Carbohydrates are the number one energy source for our brain and water is necessary for optimal brain health and function. A person should have enough respect for their bodies to feed it and make it healthy.