UTNE READER #3 Spring Quarter

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Snacks for Brainiacs--How a Trip to the Fridge Can Sharpen Your Mind by Elizabeth Somer

This article by Elizabeth Somer contends that what people eat and how they live, can affect their thinking. It is based on the knowledge that the brain, in order to function properly, must receive a constant supply of oxygen as well as a supply of glucose and nutrients, derived from the foods one eats. What a person does or does not eat for breakfast and whether or not one snacks, has an effect on how well the brain recalls information by midafternoon . Thinking, learning and memory are enhanced by keeping glucose levels in the optimal range, which is done by choosing the best combinations of foods to eat, in limited quantities and at certain times. For example, breakfast should be light and made up of complex carbohydrates and a little protein. Food intake should be spread out evenly throughout the day, consisting of four to six light meals or snacks. Heavy meals can cause sluggishness or sleepiness.

Certain foods such as red bell peppers, orange juice and carrots, contain antioxidants which are recommended for the prevention of premature aging of the brain and nervous system. Minerals such as boron, zinc and iron and the B group of vitamins, which can be found in many fortified cereals, are essential to clear thinking. Choline, a nerve chemical which aids memory, can be found in whole wheat bread, peanut butter, egg yolks and leaf lettuce.

In addition to certain foods , physical activity is related to high cognitive function. Exercise increases the amount of nutrients and oxygen the brain receives and helps limit stress hormone levels.

I found this article interesting, because "the brain" is an exciting new "frontier." It is important as an educator, to stay informed on the topic of brain research and how it applies to students and how they learn. Teachers can use this information to create better learning environments by learning to incorporate snacks and exercise into daily routines.

With regard to food intake and it's effects on cognitive function, two years ago, I observed that my first grade student were distracted and hungry about mid-morning. I teach reading in the morning and like to take full advantage of their freshness and energy, but was frustrated that we couldn't remain productive until our lunch time of 11:15 am. I discussed this issue with a colleague who told me that a mid-morning snack solved this issue with her class. I sent a note home to parents requesting that they send a daily snack to school with their child, something healthy that could be eaten in about 10 minutes. Suggested foods were orange slices, crackers with cheese or peanut butter, and pudding. I tried this and found it to be a nice break for the kids, and the hunger complaints stopped. We were able to reach our morning goals and yet the children still had and appetite for lunch. The students seemed to be more enthusiastic about our morning studies, and I found that the quality of their work improved. This year I have incorporated some stretching and movement after our snack and bathroom/break , which had added to the students energy level, not to mention my own. I have had less discipline problems the second half of the afternoon, because after releasing some pent-up energy, my students are ready to sit and work for a longer period of time.

In discussing this topic with other colleagues, I heard the same complaints about students not remaining focused throughout the morning. They are considering incorporating a snack/movement break into their routines for next year. We have discussed lengthening our morning to take advantage of the children's morning energy, and the snack/movement break would be an important part of that plan.

One goal that I would like to work towards is controlling the type of snacks we have, so as to incorporate "brain friendly" foods, yet not create more management for myself. Currently I have children bring snacks from home. I have sent letters home encouraging healthy snacks, but now I would like to be more specific. I would have enjoyed more detail from the article about specific brain friendly foods, although it did suggest three other resources to check for more information. I may compile a more comprehensive list of snacks for parents and give them information on brain research and how certain foods will help their children learn. I may try to provide the snacks myself, utilizing funds donated from parents. This article has piqued my interest in learning more about the brain and how food and exercise can improve learning.>

-- Anonymous, April 10, 1999

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