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One group received a basic version, the second received the basic githeri with a glass of milk, and the third had meat added; all githeri were balanced to contain the same amount of calories.

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The study continued for more than 2 years and spanned 2 cohorts, the first with students and the second with The students' physical health and classroom performance were measured every three or six months. Compared with the other groups, students in the meat group had greater muscle mass and fewer health problems, and even showed greater leadership in the playground.

Cognitive performance was stronger, too: the meat group outperformed other groups in maths and language subjects 4. Neumann was not surprised by the results. The typical diet in rural Kenya is subsistence-based and does not include many nutrients that help the brain to grow. The challenge now is to get people to consume more meat, which is widely regarded as too expensive. It doesn't have to be butcher meat. But how does meat fit into a richer diet? To fill this gap, Hosking and her team asked Australians aged between 65 and 90 years old — who were cognitively healthy and predominantly from a middle- or high-income background — to recall what sorts of food they ate growing up 5 , 6.

For instance, how often did they eat items such as carrots, meat, fish or cake? The researchers then administered cognitive tests. Hosking found no correlation between the volunteers' test performance and their consumption of meat as children. The results contradicted what Neumann and others have observed in developing countries.

What's more, contrary to conventional wisdom, participants who consumed more fish during childhood and as adults were actually slower on measures of cognitive speed. The fish might have contained neurocontaminants such as mercury, she says.

There are several issues that affect these results, says Hosking. One is that people don't eat single foods, but patterns of foods, making it difficult to tease out the importance of an individual food type, such as meat.

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In the older Australians for instance, those who ate meat were also more likely to consume packaged desserts and snack foods. Moreover, what the animal eats also matters. Livestock and poultry in Western nations are often raised in large facilities and fed diets that consist mainly of maize and soya, whereas animals from poor villages are typically farmed on a much smaller scale and forage for a greater variety of foods, which increases the nutrient content of their meat. The micronutrients in meat have become an essential part of our diet over millennia.

A few years ago, archaeologists in Tanzania unearthed fragments of a child's skull dating back 1. Deformities on the bones suggested that the child had died from porotic hyperostosis, a condition thought to result from a deficiency in vitamin B12 — found exclusively in animal-derived foods. Humans started eating dairy products only in the past 5, years, meaning that the child had almost certainly died from a lack of meat 7.

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So, by at least 1. Research is starting to provide some clues as to how meat helps the brain to function. Bradley Peterson, director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital Los Angeles in California, has investigated why low iron levels in children are correlated with lower IQ and poor concentration 8. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Peterson and his colleagues mapped out what happened in the brains of newborn infants of 40 adolescent mothers — a group known to be at high risk for iron deficiency.

As the brain develops, says Peterson, neurons become increasingly complex, forming branch-like dendrites covered with spines — much like a growing tree. The brain images that his team took showed a correlation between neuron complexity in an infant and the amount of iron in the mother's diet. Beyond simple measures of micronutrient intake, individual requirements are also influenced by a person's genetics. So far, much of the research has focused on how people process omega-3 fatty acids, chiefly DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid EPA , which are crucial for human cognitive health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in oily, wild fish, such as salmon and tuna, but pasture-raised animals are also a good source. Animals fed only soya or maize have fewer omega-3s. In , researchers discovered that most African populations, but not European populations, carried a variant of the FADS gene that made them more efficient at converting omega-3s in plants into a usable form, meaning that they required less from animal sources 9.

Put another way, the nutrients found in meat are important for health and cognition, but only up to a point. So the key question becomes how much meat should a cognitive-health-conscious person eat.

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Food for thought: the smart way to better brain health | Life and style | The Guardian

Tell me more. The food you put into your body can have a huge impact on how your brain works. This is important to remember around exam time, when you're probably paying more attention to books than brekkie. Learn how the food you eat affects your body so you can choose foods that improve your memory, fuel your brain and help you smash your study schedule. Which foods are the best fuel? The best way to feed your brain is to eat a wide range of foods from all food groups. Eating well-rounded meals most of the time will help you study better, and lead to better results, both in the short-term and the long-term.

What's food got to do with it? Your brain is the most complex part of your body.

Mayo Clinic Minute: Brain food for kids

Like a computer, it runs millions of processes every day. Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus , and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 18 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process.

Brain food: 6 snacks that are good for the mind

You can unsubscribe at any time, and I won't do anything slimy with your email. There are no catches. Written by Chris Bailey Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity, and is the author of two books: Hyperfocus , and The Productivity Project. There are 13 comments. Recent Posts 10 proven strategies to burn more body fat.

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  • Food for thought: the smart way to better brain health | Life and style | The Guardian.