Do Healthy Foods Make You Smarter?

Nutrition and intelligence have been studied independently and together across a variety of topics and with a number of different approaches. Children with learning disabilities and behavioral problems often have their diets scrutinized in the hopes of finding a contributor to symptom exacerbation. Similarly, children with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) are sometimes put on a diet low with few processed foods and sugars in order to potentially moderate focus and attention problems. But few studies have looked at how diet directly impacts intelligence (IQ).

Because neurological development occurs rapidly during infancy and early childhood, it could be assumed that the dietary intake during this phase could have a significant impact on IQ. Lisa G. Smithers of the Discipline of Public Health at the University of Adelaide in South Australia wanted to take a unique approach to this area of research. In a recent study, Smithers looked at what types of foods participants ate in the first two years of life and how that influenced IQ when they were 8 and 15 years old. For her study, Smithers gathered information on diet from over 7,600 participants and evaluated their intelligence scores at ages 8 and 15. She found that there were four categories of dietary intake including healthy, discretionary, traditional, and ready-to-eat.

The discretionary and traditional diets consisted of snacks/carbohydrates and meat/vegetables/puddings respectively. The ready-to-eat category included mostly packaged baby foods, while the healthy category was mostly breast milk and raw vegetables and fruits. It was the healthy diet that appeared to have the most positive effect on IQ at both ages. In fact, participants raised on discretionary and traditional diets had lower IQs than healthy diet participants at both ages. However, those in the ready-to-eat category had IQs similar to those of the healthy diet participants. Smithers said, “This suggests that diet from six to 24 months of age, when neural tissues are undergoing rapid development, has a small but persistent association with IQ.” However, she added that other factors could be at play. Smithers hopes that longer studies that include details of diet throughout early and middle childhood will shed more light on the relationship between diet and intelligence.

Smithers, L.G., Golley, R.K., Mittinty, M.N., Brazionis, L., Northstone, K., et al. (2013). Do dietary trajectories between infancy and toddlerhood influence IQ in childhood and adolescence? Results from a prospective birth cohort study. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58904. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058904

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  • raul


    April 30th, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    dont know about kids but in adults not eating unhealthy foods does keep you from being stupid.wait you gotta be stupid to gulp down all of that processed and fast food what comes first doesnt matter.healthy food=better intelligence!

  • morgan


    May 1st, 2013 at 4:10 AM

    I certainly don’t think that they will do as much overall harm as running through a fast food drive through will do!

  • Granny


    May 1st, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    I like to think of this as nutrition for plants.when the soil is right and water and sunlight sufficient the plants grow well and their health is good.but when any one of these factors deteriorates then the health of the plant goes down.eating the right kind of food at every age is important.and that is very true for growing children.if physical health is affected then mental health could be too.parents can play a very important role in this because it is they who choose what the young children eat and what they do not.

  • bailey


    May 1st, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    surprised to read that ready to eat foods proved to be better than the discretionary and traditional diets…would have though that group would score the lowest what with all the preservatives and the “un”natural methods employed…!



    May 2nd, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    If the old saying that we are what we eat continues to hold true, then I would much rather be a bed of spinach than a cheeseburger ;)

  • ree


    May 3rd, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    I don’t know if they make you smarter, and I am no nutritionist, but I do know that they make you feel better and look better. And when I look and feel better then that is s hot of confidence that I need. I realize that there are times when we are tempted by bad food choices, but you have to take a step back sometimes and question if this is really going to be the best choice for you and what you are trying to achieve. I will still have the occasional french fry because I admit that this could be my weakness if I let it- but I do try to have foods like that in moderation and I have never felt better than now, when I pay attention to what I eat and how much I exercise. It is a great feeling!

  • Bob The Builder

    Bob The Builder

    October 24th, 2017 at 11:58 AM

    If you eat chocolate you have the ability to fix anything. If you eat carrots, you’ll turn orange.

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