Where do you get your nutritional advice? Inspired by the connection between student health and learning, the authors of the recently published nutrition book Eat to Save Your Life suggest many people are getting their information mainly from advertisements, and that this is affecting their health choices for the worse.
Jerre Paquette, a university instructor and co-author of Eat to Save Your Life, noticed the connection between nutrition and classroom learning when he first started teaching in the late 1960s.
“I noticed the nutrition of students was really poor,” says Paquette, who has taught in universities around the world for 30 years. “You can spot it right away by the colour of their skin, the way they’re sitting and the way they are breathing — always very shallowly.”
As a high school teacher in the mid-1970s, he served breakfast to his early morning students and taught them how to prepare their own.
“I discovered early on if I found a way to feed my students a nutritious breakfast first thing in the morning, their behaviour and performance improved. I knew I was on to something and needed to research it more.”
Paquette found a like-minded co-author in Gloria Askew, a retired registered nurse who has been giving seminars and presentations on nutrition for 20 years. Askew developed an interest in food’s effect on health during her nursing career when she became frustrated that many medical treatments focused on the symptoms of illness rather than the root cause. Paquette attended her seminars regularly but felt she was leaving out key concepts that could be put into a book. The two decided to write one together in 2004.
This changed Paquettie’s career focus, which was previously based on his PhD in learning theory.
“I became interested in not just teaching practice, but also the nutrition that had to complement it,” he says. “After working with Gloria over the years, I stopped having flu and colds, and my energy was right up. I was 67 when I retired, but I had more energy than my students who were 18–25 years old.”
Paquette says he believes students want to eat healthy, but are getting health advice from the wrong sources.
“The problem is, we’ve been seduced by a lot of television advertising, and a lot of what we know comes through ads,” he says.
In addition, Paquette and Askew both say doctors have limited training in nutrition.
“I am in the medical field, and I know we did not study nutrition at the cellular level. We studied dietetics, but that is not nutrition,” says Askew.
“So we’re kind of on our own, and that’s our problem,” says Paquette. “The research is there, but none of us are acting on it to help our students.”
He says schools need to do their part by increasing the nutritional value in the foods offered and by eliminating vending machines with foods high in sugar.
The authors also have taken issue with certain types of research on nutrition, which can be affected by politics.
“If you study the history of food, including the politics of it, you’ll see all sorts of food products that go through cycles of being bad or good. It doesn’t have much to do with science, but everything to do with the politics of food, trade and economics,” Paquette explains. “When I’m looking at research, I have to ask who the researchers are.”
Paquette says he visited a nursing department in Calgary that was running a program on bone density and conducting free tests for the public. He says a brochure he received listed processed cheese as the best source of calcium.
“That’s not the best source; it’s a bad source. I asked who produced the brochure, and it was [a] dairy board. The medical people were listening to the lobby groups to provide information to their patients,” he says.
As a researcher in learning theory, Paquette looked at the physical brain and what it required in order for students to learn in an optimal way. He found what many students were eating was not serving their brain.
Habits for a healthy brain and body
In their book Eat to Save Your Life, retired university instructor Jerre Paquette and retired nurse Gloria Askew use scientific research to clear up the facts on nutrition and supplements. Here’s what they say students should be doing at minimum to stay healthy:
*Focus on the healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids
“Essential fatty acids is one of the most important things in nutrition,” says Paquette. “I recommend a good omega-3 fish oil product.”
“That has such an impact on the brain, the neurotransmitters and lowering the inflammatory process in the brain,” says Askew. “Young people today are . . . focusing on deep-fried [foods] [and] trans fats. They create stiff membranes instead of flexible ones. Who needs a stiff membrane in the neurotransmitter of their brain?”
“Protein is actually the building block of the neurotransmitters,” says Askew. “What about an egg? It’s high in cholesterol, which is really important for the brain.”
Paquette says, “I tell my students, before they go to bed, if they have a snack, it should be protein-based because the body requires the proteins to do all the repair work that sleep undertakes.”
*Get the right kind of sleep
Paquette recommends taking advantage of the “magic” that occurs during sleep, which is when everything we learn while awake is entrenched in the brain, according to some research.
He also says, “We now know if students follow nutritional practices and get about seven to nine hours of sleep, their performances on tests go up.”
“The first thing I notice when I walk into my classroom at 8:30 a.m. is that students are not breathing well. I know that sounds silly, but breathing is a big deal,” says Paquette. “The brain requires five times the amount of nutrients of anywhere else in the body. And [one] type of nutrient it requires is oxygen. The more you’re breathing deeply, the more you’re serving the performance of your brain.”
*Exercise throughout the day — but there’s no need to head to the gym if it’s mental health you’re worried about
“The best exercise is a long walk. You don’t have to go to the gym to optimize the ability of your brain,” says Paquette. He recommends at least
10 000 steps per day.
*Remove sugar from the diet
“I think [students] need to concentrate more on, ‘I’m not going to drink all this pop, I’m going to drink water. I’m going to have natural food. I’m going to have a banana.’ ”
*Take a good multivitamin and
“[One] that is plant-based, not synthetic,” says Askew.
*Get your doctor to check your vitamin D levels
“Most people have a deficiency. We’re supposed to get it from the ultraviolet rays of the sun, but most of us today are not out enough to get that. I would recommend that you get a vitamin D3 product and start taking it, at least 3 000 IUs a day. It has a huge impact on mood, depression, on your bones and so many aspects of your body,” says Askew.
She adds, “Get one with vitamin K2 in it. [Until you’re 30 years old], you’re still literally forming bone mass, and K2 is critical to that.”