Does essence of chicken help you get better grades?
I got my act together and was able to get back to work on the chicken schedule, with a few modifications. I set out to look at two different issues: what specific foods are good for you, and how much of them you should eat.
I started out by doing a search on Google Scholar for “foods that help you think better.”
In the spirit of the chicken experiment. It might seem more efficient just to do a search for “chicken noodle soup,” but I figured that if I just looked at those results.
There might be something about the particular foods being used in certain recipes. That would provide insight into why chicken soup was good for thinking.
Does food improve human performance?
The search came up with an interesting paper in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience by David Benton.
The journal titled “Does Food Improve Human Performance?”
Benton is a professor of psychology at Swansea University in Wales. Also he has published extensively on nutritional factors and mental performance. He appears to have been one of the pioneers in this field.
Benton describes how he got into this area when his laboratory received a grant from Nestlé UK. To investigate what he calls food and mood effects on cognition.
He says that his first question was: “What are the critical nutrients for cognition?
This led to a series of experiments with specific nutrients. Such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, selenium and so on. As we’ve seen earlier in this chapter, all of these nutrients are important for brain function.
He wanted to know if an extra supply of these micronutrients had any effect on cognitive performance.
He reports that each experiment involved giving a group of subjects the nutrient under study. Then he was asking them to take a battery of tests measuring things like verbal fluency or vigilance.
He found that while there were only small effects on tests like these. There were big effects on things like mood and motivation.
For instance, he reports that one study showed that after consuming iron supplements for a month.
It affect the subjects felt much more sociable, friendly and outgoing than they did when they weren’t getting the supplements.
Benton also reports that when he asked subjects to rate how they felt in general. They reported feeling more energetic, more cheerful and less depressed. Especially when they are taking an extra dose of these nutrients.
One of the most interesting results is that he found a positive effect on memory. This wasn’t surprising as the subjects had improved short-term memory and learning ability while taking the extra nutrients.
Benton concludes, “There is currently no convincing evidence to suggest that extra nutrients. In particular B vitamins, improve cognitive performance in the general population.”
He thinks that the reason for this is that most people are already getting enough of these nutrients. For instance, he points out that most people get more than enough vitamin B12 through their diet. Also it seems they don’t need extra supplements.
Cognition and mood association with foods
Benton also found some evidence that certain association of foods with better mood and cognition.
He reports on a study he did with schoolchildren using colored pens to see if they could influence the moods of the children by giving them a red pen or a blue pen before sending them off to take tests.
The children who received red pens reported feeling happier and more relaxed.
Benton suggests that this was because red is a symbol of good fortune in China and Japan. Then, he speculates that there might be something about the color red that makes people feel better.
He also reports on a study showing that having fish and chips for lunch made subjects feel more alert and positive than if they had curry or pasta for lunch.
Benton says, “There was a clear preference for fish and chips by our subjects as well as an improvement in mood and cognition.”
In addition to the effect of food on mood, Benton reports on studies showing that certain foods are associated with better cognitive performance.
He reports on a study showing that a meal containing carbohydrates and fats enhanced activity in the brain regions responsible for memory and cognition.
So it seems that some foods get you in the mood to think, while others help you think better.
Benton also reports on some interesting findings about vegetables. He says there is evidence that people who eat more vegetables have improved cognitive performance.
However, this effect is only seen when they have a high consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower.
He speculates that this effect is due to the sulforaphane found in cruciferous vegetables, which has been shown to improve memory in animals.
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