Can Food be the Key to Fighting Crime?
Too many times today you hear about kids and young adults being rude, obnoxious, and out of control. Many of these kids – especially the ones with the greatest behavioral problems – are almost destined to find themselves in jail as adults.
Some people blame the ever-increasing problems with unruly children and teens on the parents. Others blame it on television shows, movies, and the internet. Still others blame it on the overwhelmed and under-funded U.S. school system. But what’s the real reason and how can we stop it?
The Solution to Crime Is as Close as Your Dinner Plate
While there are most likely various factors involved, research has shown that poor nutrition could be a main contributor to criminal behavior in both youth and adults. In fact, there have been several instances where a change in diet (replacing junk food with healthy alternatives) has preceded an amazing change in behavior.
“Trouble Students” Are No Trouble at All
The students at Appleton, Wisconsin’s Central Alternative High School attend this school because they are struggling in the conventional school system and are:
- Considered to be students with mental health concerns
- Seen as students at risk of becoming involved in crime and other high-risk behaviors
- Teen parents
- Those in need of academic remediation and/or credit recovery
When the school opened in 1996, the individualized attention the students were getting did not seem to be making a big difference academically or behaviorally. In fact, a full-time police officer walked the halls to prevent violence and weapons violations.
However, after the implementation of a new food program, things drastically changed.
The big changes were actually quite simple. Vending machines were replaced by water coolers and hamburgers and French fries were removed from the lunch menu and replaced by fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread and a salad bar.
Principal LuAnn Coenen was surprised of the “astonishing” changes that occurred after altering the offering of food and drinks eight years ago. In one interview, she stated, “I don’t have the vandalism. I don’t have the litter. I don’t have the need for high security.”
Nutrition and Low IQ Creating Problems
In a study conducted through USC, researchers looked for a correlation between poor nutrition early in life and negative behavior. The study followed children from age 3 to age 17 and found that compared to children in the control group (children with good nutrition at age 3), the malnourished children had a “41 percent increase in aggression at age 8, a 10 percent increase in aggression and delinquency at age 11 and a 51 percent increase in violent and antisocial behavior at age 17.”
The study also found that social class did not play a significant factor in behavior, but intelligence level did. The malnourished participants had deficiencies in zinc, iron, vitamin B, and protein. Because the brain needs these nutrients to properly develop and function, the deficiencies led to lower IQs.
Positive Effects on the Ultimate Control Group: Prisoners
In the late 1990s, California’s San Bernardino County found itself running low on prison space at a time that crime was rising. The County took bids to build a new prison. The contractor who won the bid had one stipulation: inmates serving sentences at his facility would be offered a vegan diet.
During the seven years that the winning contractor ran the prison, it showed remarkable results. At a time when 95% of the State of California’s former prisoners were rearrested, less than 2% of the former prisoners at the vegan-based prison were rearrested.
Additionally, “the remarkable behavioral changes could even be seen outside in the prison yard where according to prison officials, nobody ‘owned’ or controlled the yard. Typical lines drawn between blacks, whites, Hispanics, gang members, and other groups were nonexistent.”
Most of the credit for this turnaround has been attributed to the prisoners’ vegan diet.
The results in the California prison were not a fluke. In another prison test, 231 inmates at a British prison were divided into a control (placebo) group and a group who received vitamin supplements. With the exception of the vitamins, the inmates followed the same routine – ate the same food, slept the same amount of time, exercised the same amount.
The prisoners who took the placebos showed no marked change in behavior. The inmates who took the supplements committed an average of 26 percent fewer violations compared to the preceding period and their number of violations decreased 37 percent.
Feed Your Brain and Improve Your Well-being
Unfortunately, the programs at Central Alternative High School in Wisconsin and these prisons are not being followed by the majority of schools and prisons. So, how can you make a difference?
You can start by changing your diet and the diet of your family. You can also support any initiative in schools and prisons that incorporate these healthy eating habits – the benefits will affect society as a whole.
Here are some tips to keep your brain and body properly fueled:
- Feed your brain (and body) the fuel it needs: The brain is only 2% of your body weight, but it uses about 20% of its calories. Be sure to eat healthy carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) to provide the brain with the energy it needs. Consuming these healthy foods – combined with lean proteins and healthy fats – will also help you maintain a healthy weight. The key is a balanced diet.
- Don’t eat; graze: Eating three meals a day actually can cause drops and spikes in your energy level and brain power. Eat smaller meals throughout the day – this tip also helps you avoid overeating at meals.
- Consume the right fats: Your body and brain need fat, but not all fat is created equal. Trans fats (common in fast food) are the worst and should be avoided. Saturated fats are not great either, but some consumption – while not recommended – is OK. Unsaturated fat is the healthiest – try to consume essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3s.
- Take nutritional supplements: Eating healthy on a regular basis does not guarantee that you are getting all of the supplements that you need. Studies have found that most of the soil used to grow food today is lacking in nutritional resources and causing lower amounts of vitamins and minerals. To combat this and get all of the nutrients your body needs, you should take a daily nutritional supplement that provides the vitamins and minerals your body (and brain) needs. One option is Metabalance 44®, which not only provides the nutrients to help nourish your brain, but also is enhanced with herbal ingredients in a unique formulation, so your body can better absorb the nutrients.
Taking care of your own nutrition can be the first step to a healthier and lower-crime society.