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Proper nutrition and academic excellence

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NUTRITION is a fundamental pillar of human life, health and development across the entire lifespan. From the earliest stages of foetal development, at birth and into adulthood and old ages, proper food and good nutrition are essential for survival, physical growth, mental development, performance and productivity, health and well-being. The role of nutrition in human life as well as in academic performance is like the role of “premium motor spirit’ (fuel) in vehicles.

Now, it has been established that eating habit is linked to academic performance. Eating habit can be seen as the way a person eats, considered in terms of the type of food eaten, in what quantity and when. It can then be opined that poor eating habit is the way people eat, the food they eat, and when they eat them which affects their health negatively.

There are some poor eating habits experienced by students almost daily including but not limited to skipping breakfast, late night eating, drinking little water, eating large quantity of food at a time and eating during activities. For skipping of breakfast, studies show that it is negatively related to academic performance.

  Speaking on the importance of proper nutrition in academic excellence, Mrs Ngozi Nwosu, a dietician said: “Eating is one of the basic actions needed to maintain good health and stay alive. Good nutrition is necessary for every living being to grow. If we do not eat the right food, our body will not function as it should. Healthy food choices are essential to help children grow, develop, feel good and do well academically.

Kids need good food because it helps: build bones and muscles, repair and replace worn out cells, keep all the systems in their body working, keeps the children healthy and full of energy. It is important to know that children require a variety of foods from the five different food groups (grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits and protein) to attain maximal use of the brain and all its functions.

  Now, one might ask, does nutrition have effects on academic performance? The relationship between nutrition and academic performance has been a great interest to various scientists all over the world. Studies have shown that proper nutrition has a direct effect on student performance and behavior in school. “Existing data suggests that with bet er nutrition students are able to learn, students have fewer absences, and improved behaviour resulting in fewer disruptions in the classroom.”

  All foods impact our brains and the way they work. Poor nutrition can be classified as an excess amount of nutrient poor foods such as fast food, cakes and more, and a limited amount of nutrient-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Nutrient rich foods provide high volumes of all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its optimum, whereas poor nutrition will contain little to no vitamins or minerals. Many school-aged children and university students consume fast foods on a daily basis which has been shown to cause lower test grades and a weaker ability.

  But then, academic performance is measured through continuous assessments and examinations. Academic performance can be seen as a problem when students are not able to reach the short-term or long-term goals in their education.

When students do not perform well in school, it can be seen to be that the students did not study hard for the examination or test and also can be caused by poor concentration in school, poor memory, poor ability to follow through topics and also poor coordination in class. Academic performance refers to a student’s ability to meet their short-term or long-term goals in education. Poor academic performance is a performance that is termed as falling below expected standard.

  However, poor performance of students could be traced to be the fault of the students, the teacher or even the parents. Water is good for the body but students tend to drink little or no water but rather, take a lot of soda or soft drinks or any liquid with a lot of sugar. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day which boosts energy level and prepares one for the tasks ahead.

Skipping breakfast may lead to fatigue, sleeping in class, lack of concentration and attention and not participating actively in class activities. It was observed that many students prefer soft drinks over water and this can endanger their health as well as academic performance as rightly pointed out that water flushes the kidney leading to less stomach ache and prevents pains in the muscles and joints.

  More so, there are injurious eating habits that had been observed among students which can still lead to low academic performance. Such eating habits as food binging, which means eating a large amount of food in one sitting mainly because a meal was skipped and then they try to compensate for it, over time, this can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.

 Another one is motional eating driven by some amount of emotions to eat even when not hungry. When people eat while they are not hungry, they experience sharper sugar spikes than when eating the same number of calories while hungry. Here is why. Every time you eat, your body is faced with a surge of nutrients–fats, proteins and carbohydrates, a.k.a. sugars.

In response, your body (with the pancreas in the lead) secretes panoply of hormones that, among other things, pull those nutrients out of the blood stream and put them to work in the body, or store them for later use. Under normal circumstances, your blood sugar will surge after a meal, but the size of that surge will be dampened by these hormones.

  Eating during other activities like eating during reading time. This is also wrong because experts said it is one form of distraction. While eating, it is important to concentrate on what is on the plate because eating in the right manner allows food to get digested properly.

  Another dangerous eating habit that should be avoided is eating late at night and eating before going to bed. Eating late at night can lead to several health hazards like increase in blood sugar levels, heart diseases, obesity and acidity. Basically, the later you eat, the less your body is prepared to sleep, which can also have adverse effects on your memory and efficiency for the next day.

  Then, Dr Obinna Okoye, a medical doctor with a private hospital in Onitsha metropolis talks about improved nutrition for increased brain function, saying “the brain is an energy-intensive organ, using around 20 per cent of the body’s calories, so it needs plenty of good fuel to maintain concentration throughout the day. The brain also requires certain nutrients to stay healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, help build and repair brain cells, and antioxidants reduce cellular stress and inflammation, which are linked to brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

  Several studies also show that nutritional status can directly affect mental capacity among school-aged children. For example, iron deficiency even in early stages, can decrease dopamine transmission, thus negatively impacting cognition.  Again, deficiencies in other vitamins and minerals, specifically thiamine, vitamin E, vitamin B, iodine, and zinc, are shown to inhibit cognitive abilities and mental concentration.

Additionally, amino acid and carbohydrate supplementation can improve perception, intuition, and reasoning. There are also a number of studies showing that improvements in nutrient intake can influence the cognitive ability and intelligence levels of school-aged children.

  Now, let us talk about healthy brain foods. The following foods contain nutrients that are important for brain health. Adding these foods to a child’s diet may support healthy brain development and function.

Eggs: Research suggests that choline is critical for infant development and brain function. According to the study, a large egg with yolk contains 125 milligrams (mg) of choline, which equates to half the requirement for children aged 4–8 years.

Oily fish: Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain function and development. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids need omega-3 fatty acids for brain function and development. Additionally, they suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may help manage psychological and behavioral conditions.

Oats: Porridge made from whole grain oats and topped with nut butter or some toasted nuts is a low GI breakfast suitable for kids who do not have a nut allergy. For those who do, adding some toasted seeds or natural yogurt provides protein and can help to balance blood sugar.

Beans and lentils: Beans and lentils contain zinc, which is vital for brain development and in childhood. A cup of cooked lentils contains 2.52 mg of zinc, half the daily requirement for a child aged 4–8 years old.

  However, one should not think that healthy nutrition is just for academic excellence. A child whose brain developed well is an asset to society and the nation in general.

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