What keeps me awake at night - Diet is the remedy we all need to swallow

Tes Editorial

My hair was falling out. My concentration was so poor that driving was dangerous. I could no longer remember the names of the children in my class. Lethargic, spaced-out and exhausted, I also noticed that I was becoming confrontational and an increasingly difficult work colleague.

After doctors could not help me, I finally sought help from a private nutritionist. I was informed that I was intolerant to gluten, dairy, soya and eggs, and that I was to avoid all sugar, grains and alcohol. Blood sugar imbalances were causing poor concentration and bouts of confusion, and my stomach was struggling to produce enough acid to digest my food.

Remarkably, within four months I noticed significant improvements with a new high-protein diet. My head was much clearer, my memory sharper than it had ever been.

As a result of this experience, my view of children's learning has been challenged. It has become increasingly apparent to me that their ability to learn relates directly to the diet that they eat. This observation was made all the more poignant as I moved from teaching at a more affluent school to one of the poorest in the country, where the difference that diet has on learning could not have been painted more clearly.

More than a third of my year group were on the special needs register for a cocktail of conditions ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and dyspraxia to speech and language difficulties and behavioural problems.

What if the uncomfortable truth is this: that diet is the sole factor affecting our children's ability to learn? What if, instead of eating high-allergen, glutinous, dairy-laden foods that inflame the gut wall, children and parents were educated about the kind of food that can nourish and support them? And what if, instead of running on empty, our children were given the correct fuel to allow them to achieve their full potential?

Might this go some way to slowing the epidemic of special needs and start to address the imbalances so apparent in our society between the impoverished and the wealthy? Food for thought.

The writer is a teacher in London, England.

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