Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” [Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are].
You might be wonder why I am writing about food today and what is its impact on studying the master’s programme and academic performance. It is a widely believed fact that you are what you eat. Studies have shown that the food that we eat has a bearing on our academic performance. Hence the direct correlation between nutrition and academic performance.
When I was a young kid, my mother always insisted on eating healthy food and wanted my brother and me to develop healthy eating habits. But we loved what every other kid adores – junk food. I preferred eating French fries over broccoli any day; little did we understand the effect of food on our bodies and mental health. Nor did I realise that not eating a balanced diet could lead to several deficiencies in the body, such as iron deficiency, vitamins, iodine, and zinc. These deficiencies can negatively impact cognition, intuition, perception and, mental concentration.
According to WHO, nutrition is an essential element of the health and development of human life. Food plays a vital role in physical and mental development, productivity, and performance. Food is fuel for our body and mind. Eating right early in life yields benefits in the later stages of life as we grow older. It becomes even more critical as an adult to maintain good eating habits and consume nutritional food as there are many roles and responsibilities one caters to in everyday life. From being a parent, to being a business owner, working for a corporation or being a mature student, one will wear many hats. You can take care of others only when you yourself are healthy and in good health. Studying for a master’s is a challenge while balancing study, work and life.
Here are 3 ways how nutrition effects academic performance:
Good nutritional food brings satisfaction to the body. With a satisfied body and mind one can have better concentration and self-actualization. If there is no fuel provided to the body, the mind becomes sluggish too and there is a lag in the need to excel in studies. Hence good nutrition is necessary for the optimum realisation of one’s cognitive and economic potential.
Better learning potential
Healthy mind stays in a healthy body. Our brain’s potential is much more than we actually utilise it. Providing adequate nutrition and rather enhancing our diet with super foods improves mental learning performance manyfold. The spontaneity of student and concentration is much better when they are well nourished. This is turn improves the learning potential.
Build immunity and prevent illnesses
Our cells produce energy required for all our daily tasks and also for additional un-anticipated events. Last few years have been very challenging with Covid-19 spreading all over the world and only fittest could survive. Good nutrition will ensure your body has built adequate immunity to fight all the unprecedented diseases and illnesses. And when the body is illness free, the mind can excel in academic performance.
With age comes wisdom. By and large, the saying holds true, with a few exceptions – I am sure many of us know someone in our lives who hasn’t learnt from their mistakes. But this blog is not about introspection, or learning from one’s mistakes, or even about changing the past. It is about learning to focus when studying.
However, when I thought about writing this blog, it got me thinking about my childhood and the student I was; it got me introspecting. I remember sitting in my study and trying to focus on my textbook, and I remember all I needed was the slightest distraction to get completely distracted. Even when I read, I was just going through the motions and not really focusing or even trying to understand what I was trying to study.
It got so bad that even my parents realised I wasn’t focusing on what I was studying, and I remember the day before some exams, my mother would come to the study and offer to read the textbook for me. I don’t think I have ever thanked my parents for all the support they have given me, so thank you, mom and dad, for all you have done for me.
There goes my focus! Let’s get back on topic, shall we?
What is focus?
In the simplest terms, focus is the ability to do a task without getting distracted.
Focus (or attention span), like most other human habits, can be trained and developed. The easiest things to develop are bad habits as it is usually fast and easy. But focus/concentration/attention span – whatever you want to call it, will take hard work and dedication.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
Our mind is, after all, a muscle, and so is trainable. The following are 3 simple tips that should get you started on the path of training your focus.
1. Take responsibility
Human beings like to deflect responsibility. If we take on the responsibility of a particular task, like, let’s say, studying a particular subject at a specific time, then the responsibility of completing the said task is in our hands. There may have been several reasons that distracted you and prevented you from completing the task… wrong! You allowed yourself to be distracted, and you failed to complete the task. So, stop making excuses and get back in the driver’s seat of your life!
A good way to understand what I am trying to say here is by imagining yourself on a long road trip, and you find yourself in the backseat of the car. For most of us, it is just a matter of time before we fall asleep. Now, keeping all conditions the same, only you find yourself in the driver’s seat, you will find yourself more focused, alert, and determined to drive the car to the best of your ability.
So, take responsibility, get on the driver’s seat, and you will find yourself able to focus a lot better.
Attention is a muscle, and like every other muscle, it needs to be trained and worked out to develop. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. He said 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.
We have many distractions around us that prevent us from focusing on the task at hand, and more often than not, we give in to those distractions. We do it so often that in the end, we become experts in ‘getting distracted’.
So, how do you go about training attention?
Let’s start with a simple exercise. Let’s start with a 10-minute exercise. Go to your study, just with a notebook and a sheet of paper to note down all your distractions. Leave all distractions (mobile phones, storybooks, food, etc.) outside. To start with, choose your favourite subject and take study material only for that subject and only what you will be able to cover in 10-minutes.
Start reading the study material actively, making notes and asking questions to better understand the subject. In the middle of this active study session, if anything distracting pops into your mind, make a note of it immediately in the distraction sheet, and return to your studies immediately. And once the 10-minutes is done, stop. Close your study material and leave the study.
Gradually try increasing the number of these 10-minute slots, rather than increasing the duration of study. If you find yourself unable to focus during these slots and cannot refocus, stop the session early and walk away.
You will find you can cover as much in 10 minutes of focused effort as what you would usually have covered in an hour previously.
3. Health and rewards
We have covered most of this in detail in our earlier blogs, and I will link them here – eat healthily and exercise your body. To keep motivated, reward yourself, even in small ways. On completing tasks, realise that you have, and acknowledge this fact! Stand up and dance like nobody’s watching!
I hope these tips will help in getting you started on focusing on your tasks better. We would love to hear from you about what helped you with improving your focus.
If you ask me, the brain is the most essential part of the human body. Some of you might disagree with me and say it is the heart, lungs, liver, or left pinky finger that is more important, and you might be right, with valid reasons. The fact is, without the brain, nothing else matters. A body without brain activity is just a shell.
So, taking care of the brain, nurturing, and exercising it is crucial if you need to perform at your best. In my opinion, it is more important to keep your brain at peak efficiency than it is to keep your body in the best of conditioning. And like everything else that is related to your body – what you eat is critical in its development.
If you removed all the moisture from your brain, what are you left with? Breaking down your dehydrated brain into its constitutional nutritional content, most of its weight comes from the following:
Fats, aka lipids
Proteins and amino acids
Of course, the brain is much more than just the sum of its nutritional parts. However, each part has an important role in your development, functioning, mood, and energy. So that sleepy feeling you get after your third helping of biriyani (a delicious Indian rice dish, a definite must-try!) could simply be the effect of food on your brain.
Fats aka lipids
The brain has the second-highest lipid content behind adipose tissue, and brain lipids constitute 50% of the brain dry weight. Omega 3 and omega 6 are the most essential fats in your brain, and, as they are critical in preventing degenerative brain conditions, must be included in your daily diet. Therefore, eating omega-rich foods is necessary for the creation and maintenance of cell membrane. Some examples of omega-rich foods are:
Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
Nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts)
Fortified foods (such as certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, soy beverages, and infant formulas)
Plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil)
There are, of course, fats that are bad for your body and brain, like saturated and trans fats, and long-term consumption of these may compromise brain health. So, you know what to look out for, a few examples of “bad fats” are:
Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies
Refrigerated dough, such as biscuits and rolls
Fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken
Nondairy coffee creamer
I know, that is most of the good things in life. It makes me sad too!
Proteins and amino acids
These are the building blocks of life, of growth, and development. A protein is a chain of amino acids that are connected. They impact how we feel and behave.
Amino acids contain neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit a signal from a neuron across the synapse to a target cell, which can be a different neuron, muscle cell, or gland cell. This has an impact on your sleep patterns, mood, weight, etc.
Different types of foods can have a vastly different impact on how we feel. For example, pasta can give us a feeling of calm, or protein can make us energised. This is why having a balanced diet is essential because you don’t want to swing your mood around too much.
According to the World Health Organization – micronutrients are vitamins and minerals needed by the body in very small amounts. However, their impact on a body’s health is critical, and deficiency in any of them can cause severe and even life-threatening conditions. They perform a range of functions, including enabling the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances needed for normal growth and development. Micronutrient deficiencies can cause visible and dangerous health conditions, but they can also lead to less clinically notable reductions in energy level, mental clarity, and overall mental capacity. This can reduce educational outcomes, reduce worker productivity, and increase risk from other diseases and health conditions.
Five micronutrients — vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc — play roles in maintaining the immune function. The following are a few examples of micronutrient rich foods:
The human brain only makes up about 2% of our body weight, yet it uses up to 20% of our energy resources. Most of this energy comes from carbohydrates that our body digests to glucose. The brain, specifically the frontal lobe, is so sensitive to drops in glucose levels that a physical change in mental functions becomes visible.
According to an article by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), brain functions such as thinking, memory, and learning are closely linked to glucose levels and how efficiently the brain uses this fuel source. If there isn’t enough glucose in the brain, for example, neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers, are not produced, and communication between neurons breaks down. In addition, hypoglycemia, a common complication of diabetes caused by low glucose levels in the blood, can lead to loss of energy for brain function and is linked to poor attention and cognitive function.
The brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel; it cannot be without it.
Vera Novak, MD, PhD, an HMS associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Assuming we have carbs on a regular basis, the type of carbohydrates we eat can also have a varied impact on the brain. For example, high glycaemic foods, such as white bread, cause a rapid release of glucose into the blood, followed almost immediately by a quick dip in blood sugar. This results in shortened attention span and mood swings. On the other hand, foods like oats, grains, and legumes release glucose gradually, resulting in a more sustained level of attentiveness.
Again, a balanced intake of carbohydrates is needed to get your brain performing at peak efficiency.
So, there are tangible benefits to following a diet plan. However, do not go about changing your diet on your own; you never know the impact your diet can have on your body and health. Instead, consult your doctor, a nutritionist, or both, tell them your goals and work with them to develop a dietary plan.
We would like to hear from you – please comment below on the impact following a diet has had on you. How were you able to stick to your diet?
While our Education Advisors (EA) are no nutritionists, you can always chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our Education Advisors for more information on all the 100% online master’s degree programmes we offer and the application process.