How Diet and Nutrition Can Impact Language Learning Ability

You may be thinking what has your diet and nutrition got to do with Language learning? At Language Learners Journal our focus is on a more holistic approach to learning and this means looking at the bigger picture and thinking about other areas that might be impacting on our ability to learn. One of these areas just happens to diet and nutrition!

Have you noticed when you are hungry you might get a little grumpy and struggle to focus? If your car is low on fuel it might run a little sluggish. You would top it up with fuel to make it work more efficiently again. If it completely ran out it will just stop! Let’s apply this to your brain. Food is fuel. It gives you energy. If you don’t have sufficient energy levels your brain will not be able to properly process new information. Instincts will kick in to find food. Conversely, if you put the wrong type of fuel in your car it will not work properly. The same applies to your brain. If you eat rubbish it will not work properly!

Our modern-day eating habits have a tendency to be loaded with sugars, caffeine, chemicals, and fizzy drinks.  After the sugar or caffeine rush is over you will start feeling rather tired, unfocused, a little shakey and maybe even a little sick! Studies have shown that students that have healthier lifestyles, for example, a more balanced diet along with good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and increased water intake have improved focus, attention, memory,  and are better able to manage their moods. All important things if you want to learn a new language!

According to the Society for Neuroscience,  a diet that has high levels of saturated fats can impair learning and memory especially when consumed by children. One of the theories that explain the link between saturated fats and brain power in the research paper is the effects of glucose and sugars in higher-fat foods. You can get glucose from carbohydrates, and while glucose is essential for energy, foods that are too high in glucose can actually cause the body’s energy levels to suddenly drop. This will impact upon one’s ability to focus, process and digest new information.
Deficiencies in iron, Vitamin B, E, and Zinc are also scientifically known to impact upon cognitive functioning, energy and concentration levels. So if you are feeling very low in energy and unable to focus it may be worth increasing foods that contain these.

Increased Cognitive Functioning

Studies have shown that healthier diets are associated with increased cognitive functioning which leads to improved memory formation, focus. increased attention span. This all leads to better performance in exams. However, researchers have also discovered that children who are malnourished had problems with vision, fine motor skills and even struggled with language skills!

Malnourished children […] were found to have delays in vision, fine motors skills, language skills and personal-social skills.

Researchers Margaret Lahey and Shari Rosen 

Here are my top 10 brain-boosting nutritional tips. I believe that it is vital to ensure a healthy and balanced diet when learning new things, especially languages. For a start, it helps with focus, concentration, memory, mood, energy and even our motivational levels.

10 Brain-Boosting Nutritional Tips for Language Learners

1. If you are able to then try not to study on an empty stomach and ensure you have some water.

2. Keep a food, sleep and exercise diary to monitor what is happening. Often until we see it written down we aren’t really aware of the patterns and habits we form.

3. To promote healthy eating and brain function eat smaller healthier meals and snacks every three to four hours. Studies show that after just thirty minutes, feelings of fatigue and stress drop after a nutritious snack or meal. Healthy levels of glucose can boost energy levels and improve their focus.

4. Ensure your breakfast is high in protein. So have eggs, milk, and cheese. You can also get protein from nuts, pulses, and soya. Higher protein and lower carbohydrates can help enhance concentration levels.

5. Healthy meals and snacks should consist of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, nuts, and eggs. Also, specific vitamins and minerals can be incorporated to improve memory. Invest in foods that are rich in lecithins, such as peanuts, soybeans, and wheat germ. Potassium also aids in energy and brain functioning and can be derived from oranges, bananas, apricots, avocados, melons, peaches,  nectarines, but it doesn’t just have to be fruit, fish, carrot juice, beans and sweet potatoes also contain potassium!

6. Cook with olive oil – it is rich in Polys, which are powerful brain protective antioxidants!

7. Fish such as salmon contains omega, but if you are not liking fish you can get omega 3 from walnuts and flaxseed.

8. Ensure you are getting the minimum of 7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Remember Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. Blueberries along with omega 3 help maintain the general health of brain cells. It also helps stimulate the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus region of the brain. Therefore helping with memory formation.

9. Suffering from poor memory and finding it difficult to pay attention? Increase your vitamin B1 intake. So wholegrain, such as brown rice and bran. Broccoli, mushrooms, nuts, and seeds (unless you have allergies).

10. Most importantly ensure you are drinking enough water every day. Water really is a forgotten nutrient! Water makes up over two-thirds of our bodies. A mere 2% decline in water can have serious implications on own brain health, such as poor short-term memory, confusion, poor concentration and difficulty focusing.  Dehydration is also one of the most common causes of fatigue.

Remember a well-balanced diet with an active lifestyle and good sleep hygiene will really help your brain, to process new information more efficiently and allow better storage conditions for memory. So follow these tips and get the most out of your next study session.


If you are worried about your diet or feel you might have an intolerance or food allergy please seek professional advice from a doctor or medical professional. You can also check out the NHS – Live Well for professional information, apps and tools to help you get healthier.

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The Mindful Language Learner

Trisha, is the founder of Language Learners An award-winning blog dedicated to empowering and promoting a more mindful approach to independent language learning and teaching across the UK and beyond. Trisha has a professional and academic background in psychology and well-being. She has been practicing mindfulness for over 20 years and has professionally taught CBT-based mindfulness for the past 7 years. You can follow Trisha on her official Facebook Page, Instagram or Twitter accounts to discover how to apply simply mindfulness practices and scientifically proven strategies to your language learning...