Can Eating Certain Foods Make It Harder To Focus? with Chloe Amen

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

One of the most overlooked factors when determining success at school is nutrition habits. You may be surprised to hear that the type of food you send your child off to school with may play a huge role in how well they’re able to focus in class. In the third episode in a series on the brain at school, Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana, and their daughter Chloe share some insight on how to properly fuel the brain to ace those tests.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In Our podcasts, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit Amen
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about change your brain, change your grades here with Tana and also Chloe. We're so excited to be with her. This is lesson three and, you know, one of the big things, and I know you've been tortured by living in our family for a very long time. When you used to come at Sunday school and put a donut in my face and say, "Hey, look what they gave us for Sunday school." [inaudible 00:01:15] Great. Go to get your soul fed and those people were trying to kill you. Food is so important to learning and we wonder why there's a skyrocketing increase in ADHD, but all you have to do is look at school lunches.
Tana Amen: This is one of my pet peeves when I would be taking you to school in the mornings and there's across the street... And I understand, I mean I get it, people are busy. We've gotten two parents working now and they're dropping their kids off early to school and I'd see them coming out of the grocery store across the street. There's a bakery inside the grocery store and they're walking out with donuts and bagels and muffins and these kids. What frustrates me about it is this, most people may not have known, but these kids are getting in trouble and I knew some of these kids and they're getting in trouble. They're getting calls home. They're saying... They're getting labeled as problem children. They're on the list all the time and they're going to the doctor and being told they have ADD and learning problems, which they may, but no one is telling them, change your diet. Okay? These kids should not be having sugar and simple carbs for breakfast. Right? If you've got ADD, especially,
Dr. Daniel Amen: so I didn't learn anything about-
Tana Amen: 16 hours, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Medical School.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So out of the 80,000 hours it took me to become a psychiatrist and a child psychiatrist, I had 16 hours of nutrition and not one lecture on how food affects your mind. But what taught me, and this was a mother of an autistic child, is when I took him off gluten and dairy the next week he had 50 words, right? And it's just there's a huge connection between how you perform in school and the nutrition going to your brain.
Tana Amen: Well, and it frustrates me when people start to have this argument. It's like they'll start with, oh, calories are calories. Really? Well tell that to a diabetic. Calories are not calories, right? They're just not.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Nobody knows what that means. Okay.
Tana Amen: So...
Chloe: She's a little bit of a nerd since [crosstalk 00:03:22]-
Tana Amen: Diabetics cannot just go eat a bunch of sugar and simple carbohydrates because it's going to jack up their blood sugar. They can't do that because they don't have the insulin to process it, right? And then they have to go take insulin. So calories are not calories. If they eat correctly, then they need to take less medicine. So calories are not calories and if you have ADD, or you've got a learning problem, it's even... It's more important that you eat really healthy, not more important than the diabetic. It's more important. It's just more important overall.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's important.
Tana Amen: Right. That you eat really healthy because when you have ADD, your frontal lobes are sleepy. Okay? The last thing you want to do is go eat simple carbs and sugar, which are going to drop your frontal lobes more. It's actually going to affect Serotonin and drop your frontal lobes. You want something like protein in the mornings because you want it... What you want, protein and healthy fat, which is going to increase dopamine, which helps you focus. It also stays with you longer, it balances blood sugar.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And change your brain, change your [inaudible 00:04:18]. We talk about brain types. So we've already brought that and Chloe's a type three.
Tana Amen: She doesn't do well [crosstalk 00:04:23]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Her Brain is really busy. And if she would go on the Atkins diet on a really low carbohydrate diet, she would become an [crosstalk 00:04:35]-
Chloe: I tried Keto, just because I wanted to try it because I am one of those people. I was like, oh, might as well try it, right. I was not a happy person.
Tana Amen: She over focused on everything that bothered her.
Dr. Daniel Amen: [inaudible 00:04:48] talk about.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Chloe: So I-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Were you dating Michael, when you tried Keto?
Chloe: Oh, no, I wouldn't... Well, I still wouldn't be. No, I was not nice. But I've had to kind of balance it out because just like not everyone learns the same, and not everyone studies the same, not everyone's function is the same as far as organization and that kind of stuff. Well, not everyone has the same diet, which optimizes-
Tana Amen: Totally true.
Chloe: ... their productivity. So, a high protein diet, low carb does not optimize my productivity. I don't get as much done. I'm cranky and-
Tana Amen: Matches her brain.
Chloe: I'm also active. I'm very active. I do three different sports, but there is healthy carbs and there's unhealthy carbs, right? So just loading yourself with a bunch of sugar, I crash really fast. That doesn't sustain me throughout the day with school and with all my sports and that kind of stuff. So sugar is not... Sugar doesn't work with that. Obviously I've had to experiment at what works best for me. I can't go with no carbs, I'm just not that type. But there's healthy carbs. There is, I mean she has amazing desserts and her books and stuff like that. We make muffins and cookies and brownies that are healthy, but that fulfill that need for me. I need carbs and I'm happier. Also-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:06:17] little veggie cleaning.
Chloe: Also vegetables and protein and-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So this is really important.
Tana Amen: And that matches [crosstalk 00:06:23]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Knowing your brain types. So Chloe's a type three where her brain is busy. If we just put her on a high protein diet, she would concentrate more-
Chloe: And my anxiety gets much worse.
Dr. Daniel Amen: On the things that upset her.
Chloe: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: As opposed to [Alisay 00:06:40] was a sleepy brain and she might do really well on a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet. In the book we talked to you about how you know your type, what are the right things for your type, but the reason, I think, that mental health problems in kids is skyrocketing, is the ease of fast food restaurants and processed foods.
Tana Amen: Well, and everything's sugar -
Dr. Daniel Amen: They're just studying
Tana Amen: ... and red food dyes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's a study in Australia where they looked at two outer islands. One of them had fast food restaurants, the other one did not, and the island that didn't have the fast food restaurants had higher levels of omega three fatty acids. 97% of the American population is deficient in Omega threes which make up 25% of nerve cell membranes in your brain. 25% of the fad is omega three fatty acids and on the island that had fast food restaurants, low Omega threes, five times the level of depression.
Chloe: So for teenagers especially, because I'm adding to this because of the book, if you're a high school student or even college, I think a big reason... It's very important... Educating yourself and being aware is very important. And I think a lot of high schoolers, college students, they're so focused and so aware of their grades and their school that they... Food and sleep are an afterthought and they don't often realize that they correlate strongly, and obviously money, those types of things, you're managing your money. And so between classes going and running for fast food, or even at the lunch table we have energy drinks, like sugary everything, candies. We have vending machines and it's like that quick fix and we're not thinking that, "Oh, food correlates to how I do on this test that I'm about to take. We just don't think about that because we're young and we have other priorities and other focuses.
I'm surely not perfect. I'm a teenager so it's like every now and then I'm like, "Okay, I'm with my friends." So it's like fast food and that kind of stuff. But I try to be just aware of how it affects me the next day when I get brain fog and I'm like, hmm, I wonder what's wrong with me today. It's probably because I had a milkshake yesterday. You know, it's like that kind of... It's noticing that difference and being aware of it. And I think just being conscious of how it affects you-
Tana Amen: It's very smart.
Chloe: ... is very important. So, if you went out tomorrow and you got fast food and then you had a test that you tried to study, just pay attention, just do a little experiment and pay attention. Okay, what is the difference? And then you'll figure out what works for you and what doesn't. So if I went on high protein, that's not gonna work for me either. But going out and eating a bunch of sugar, that doesn't work for me either. So I found-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you need a little bit of protein, a little better protein and healthy carbs.
Tana Amen: One of my favorites, actually two studies out of Holland, showed that by changing kids diets... They took a group of ADD kids and by changing their diets, they improved their symptoms. 70%
Dr. Daniel Amen: 70% of them actually lost the diagnosis of ADD.
Tana Amen: What they took out was they took out sugar, gluten, dairy, food dyes, and there was a... Sugar, gluten, dairy, food dyes and corn. And everyone's like, "Oh, there's nothing to eat." Well, that's why I wrote-
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's 10,000 things.
Tana Amen: ... the cookbooks. Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You just have to be smart and know [crosstalk 00:10:24]-
Tana Amen: You have to learn, you have to be focused.
Dr. Daniel Amen: One of my favorite little trips was Chloe's skin started breaking out. I think you were 11 and you went... Help me with this. And so remember we went to Whole Foods and I'm like, "Okay, your job is to pick 10 things you love that love you back." And I taught you how to read food labels. This is what they should be teaching in school. How to read food labels. Unfortunately, she was, I don't know, in third grade and the school district sent home a letter that basically said, "Teach your children that all food-
Tana Amen: All foods are good.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All foods are good. And when Tana read it, she wrote them a three page response.
Tana Amen: I volunteered to go teach.
Chloe: You know, it's a miracle that I was the teacher's pet, all the way through school. I don't know how I did it. I really, in a way...
Tana Amen: I volunteered all the way through school and at the... I remember the end of, what? Third grade, I think it was, that volunteer appreciation day. And I came walking in one day and there were two teachers walking toward me and one was carrying cupcakes and one was carrying donuts or something and they were walking toward me and I go, "Hi." They saw me, literally, their jaws dropped at the very same moment. They spun around. They turned around and walked away. And I'm like... And then it occurred to me why they did it. They were like guilty. And then all of a sudden they kind of stop and they realize what they did. And I'm like, really? And I'm like, you guys act like you're in second grade. What is that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk about more practical tips for you to be a lifelong learner and improve your grades or your salary. We're raffling off after each episode a free copy of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, signed, go to and leave us a comment and in the subject line, write change your brain, change your grades raffle. Also, leave us questions and comments.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from Brain MD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at or at 10% discount on all supplements at For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.