Findings from Oklahoma State University assistant professor of clinical psychology Misty Hawkins (along with a team of researchers from Kent State University) suggest dietary choices may have immediate effects on thinking skills.
Hawkins and her colleagues recently conducted experiments with healthy college-aged students to determine if breakfast drinks impacted their ability to think. The study showed participants who consumed low-fat dairy, such as 1-percent milk, performed better on cognitive tests than those who consumed water or juice.
“What we ingest into our body, even acutely, can impact how we think,” Hawkins said.
Operating on the belief that baseline levels of glucose regulation could affect outcomes, those with the healthiest fasting glucose levels were separated from those with higher fasting glucose levels (but below the “diabetic range”). Those in the “healthiest” range who drank water (“essentially still fasting”) or juice (“a sugar bomb”) showed faster reaction time but poorer accuracy. The milk drinkers showed a more careful approach to the task.
With this information, Hawkins hopes to see healthy students make better dietary choices. If they are hustling across campus and pressed for time, she suggests consuming something with high protein and good fats rather than juices, soda, or even water.
“They need something with a little more substance to it, otherwise they might be more haphazard on their test,” Hawkins said.
Dr. Hawkins is a clinical psychologist and behavioral medicine researcher. She directs the REACH lab, a health psychology/behavioral medicine lab that studies the intersection between emotions, neurocognition, chronic disease, and health. Specifically, her research examines the relationship between emotional factors (e.g. depression), cognitive factors (e.g., executive function), chronic diseases (e.g., obesity, cardiovascular disease) and health behaviors (e.g., eating, exercise). She believes that understanding how the way we feel and think impacts our physical health (and vice versa) is the first step in combating hard-to-treat health conditions like obesity or promoting healthy behaviors like healthy eating.