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They Are What You Feed Them

Dr Alex Richardson studies the effect that food has on behaviour, learning and mood. She is based at Oxford University and is author of the widely acclaimed book ?They Are What You Feed Them?.

At our event Foundations for Flourishing Youth, Dr Richardson presented a wealth of scientific findings which highlighted the importance of consuming certain foods, such as those foods containing omega three fatty acids. This research shows that certain fats (highly polyunsaturated fats) are vital for our well-being and that increasing our intake of these fats positively impacts upon our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. 
Dr Richardson began by dealing with some misconceptions about saturated and unsaturated fats (you can find out more about by going to her talk). Then Dr Richardson pointed out that if people consume the average western diet they will not only fail to consume enough essential fatty acids but also they will be eating the wrong type of fats. In some cases this can cause serious problems.  Dr Richardson also argued that diet may well play an important part in the development of the types of problems which are rising in the western world such as diabetes (once the disease of the old but now affecting children and young people) dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.  Considering that our brain comprises 60 per cent fat getting the fats right is important for well-being.
The evidence Dr Richardson presented showed that a lack of omega three can result in visual, spatial, learning and attentional difficulties as well as depression and anxiety. Research has shown that ensuring adequate consumption of omega three can benefit: mothers and their unborn babies, prisoners' behaviour, people suffering from schizophrenia, people who suffer from depression and individuals with dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 
For example, one study showed that prisoners who were given basic nutrient supplements including omega three, equivalent to what they should be receiving from a normal diet, showed around 40 per cent reduction in severe offences. This finding has been replicated in other studies.  Other research suggests that people with depression or schizophrenia should be given 1 gram of omega three (EPA) in addition to whatever treatment they are on. The exciting evidence is that EPAs do not have the side effects that antidepressants do and some initial studies suggest they are more effective than Prozac. 
Dr Richardson's presentation essentially showed that people are what they eat and if we want to see improvement in people's well-being focusing on diet is a vitally important step. 

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