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The Importance of Childhood Nutrition for Learning

August 10, 2022

The foods children eat affect their ability to focus, learn and create. We explore the importance of healthy eating for learning below.

Why Is Healthy Eating Important?

The brain runs primarily off glucose. However, much to the dismay of your children, this doesn’t make red frogs and lollies an adequate fuel source to power them through a day of school and extracurricular activities!

Balance is essential. A healthy diet should include a combination of carbohydrates, fats and protein for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. These spikes cause moodiness, low energy and a decrease in concentration which ultimately impacts a child’s ability to focus and learn.

How Nutrition Impacts A Child’s Ability to Learn

Studies suggest that the foods children eat during their preschool years (ages 1-6) are of particular importance as this marks a time for dramatic postnatal development. During this period, neural plasticity and the fundamental acquisition of cognitive development occur including working memory, attention and inhibitory control1. Research indicates that a higher percentage of dietary fat is of benefit in a child’s diet during this time in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals and ensure the proper development of cognitive functions1.

Interestingly, several studies indicate that good nutrition and an adequate intake of dietary fat, specifically essential fatty acids (EFA’s), can dramatically decrease symptoms of behavioural disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 2,3. Foods rich in EFA’s include oily varieties of fish such as salmon and sardines, olive oil, avocado and a range of nuts and seeds including walnuts and chia seeds. Conversely, foods that are high in sugar and artificial colours and flavours have been shown to aggravate behavioural disorders2.

The influence of eating breakfast on the behaviour of children in school has also been investigated. A study that examined the impact of different glycaemic load meals on the performance of children (aged 6-7 years) found that 2-3hrs after a low glycaemic (GI) breakfast had been consumed, children’s performance on memory tests and their ability to sustain attention were better4. This finding suggests that a low GI breakfast such as porridge, or a wheat bran cereal such as all-bran, may help your child to better focus and learn in school.

The Gut Brain Connection

The gut is dubbed ‘the second brain’. Some research has found that imbalances in the gut can trigger other issues including behavioural upset and a drop to concentration1. The food we eat can influence the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Eating a diverse diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains is one of the most effective ways to improve the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Including pre- and pro-biotic rich foods in the diet such as onion, garlic, banana and yogurt is also thought to be beneficial for digestive health and function too!


 Are you looking for more tips for supporting your families health? Read our blog 'The Benefits of Going Organic'.


  1. Francisco J. Rosales Steven Reznick, et al. Understanding the role of nutrition in the brain and behavioural development of toddlers and preschool children. Nutr Neurosci. 2009 Oct; 12(5): 190–202.
  2. Spears B. ADHD: An inflammatory condition. The link between ADHD, obesity and proper nutrition. Psychology Today, 2011, June 20.
  3. Milner JA, Allison The role of dietary fat in children nutrition and development. The Journal of Nutrition 1999; 129 11:2094–2105.
  4. Benton D, Maconie A, Williams C. The influence of the glycaemic load of breakfast on the behaviour of children in school. Physiology & Behaviour 2007; 92:717-724.
  5. Liang s, Wu X, Jin F. Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology from the microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis, Integr. Neurosci., 11 September 2018