The role of nutrition in learning has really come to attention in recent years. Here in the UK, the debate crystalised around Jamie Oliver's TV show on school dinners, but it's evolved into a bigger ongoing debate. Whether you're a young person working your way through the education system, an adult learner, or simply someone who finds themself cooking for a learner, good nutrition will help with good grades, and a vegan diet can really help.
My fourth year at university I suffered from very low energy levels. I was tired and my attention wandered. It was frustrating - why wouldn't my body cooperate?
Of course, lots of people around me said it was because I wasn't eating meat. Never mind that some of them were suffering from the same problem, and several were over weight. I was a vegetarian, that must be the problem.
Eventually I mentioned this to my mum who, in the role of vegetarian earth mother, pointed out the obvious - I was eating badly. It's not that I was eating lots of junk food, but that there was no thought or variety going into my diet. She sent me a student vegetarian cook book and I started experimenting. I made a game of it, cooking a different meal every time. Not only did my energy levels shoot up, but I developed a lifelong love for cooking.
Far from hindering my health, not eating meat helped. Vegetarian and vegan cook books for students couldn't go for the lazy options, the cheap joints of meat and sausage hotpots loaded with cholesterol. They were balanced and nutritious as well as cheap. They were giving me everything good that I needed, and leaving out the bad parts. My health and energy levels didn't just catch up with my meat eating friends - they overtook them.
Now that I know what I'm looking for, I can often spot when poor nutrition is affecting friends and colleagues. Low blood sugar is usually the problem - I know several people whose moods become terrible if they've gone too long since their last meal, or their body is missing a snack. Again many vegan foods provide the answer. Such staples as lentils, quinoa and rice provide slow release energy in the form of complex carbohydrates, helping to keep your energy level up without snacks, and so balance your mood and attention span through the day. They're also less likely to slow your body down as it deals with the animal proteins.
Good nutrition is vital to learning, and an animal free diet can really help. So to all of you going into classes this autumn, or helping your children through the school day, I say this - vegan food can help. Hit the lentils, soy and nuts. Give your body something that will keep you focused throughout the day, because a healthy body is vital to a healthy mind.
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