Improve SAT Scores and Be Brain Smarter

improve sat scores
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

It’s a question a lot of kids ask — and a lot of parents ask for them: How can you improve your SAT scores?

It seems that improving memory, reasoning, and intelligence are a concern for every age group. Parents want their children to excel, students want to be able to quickly grasp new ideas, working people want to be alert and effective, and baby-boomers want to ensure they will be aware and productive for years to come.

Whether you’re studying for the SAT, a big presentation at work, or any kind of assignment that requires a big burst of brainpower, the simplest answer to improving and maintaining memory and intelligence is to eat more SuperFoods and less fast food, processed foods, and soda pop. That’s probably no surprise — but here’s some evidence that may perk up your motivation even more.

Appleton, Wisconsin

The Appleton Central Alternative Charter High School was established in 1996 to accommodate students who were having learning difficulties and behavioral problems in the traditional high school environment. Initially, the student body was plagued by violent behavior, attention problems, and psychological issues. Teachers observed that when students congregated before school and during breaks, they’d consume candy, chips, and soda. Behavior problems, poor concentration, irritability, and impulsivity seemed to increase after these breaks. The staff at these schools speculated that there was a relationship between the vending machine breaks and poor performance.

The school did two things that made a huge difference:

  1. Expand their physical education program
  2. Begin a nutrition program that provided a healthy breakfast and lunch for their students

Cooks prepared the meals from scratch daily and included fresh produce, whole grains, and baked chicken and turkey. Vending machines were removed and water coolers added throughout the campus. All of this was made possible through funding from a Natural Ovens’ Peak Performance grant. The owners of Natural Ovens, Paul and Barbara Stitt, had long believed that improving nutrition would improve school performance. They partnered with the Appleton Central Alternative Charter High School to establish this experimental program for improved school nutrition and performance.

The results were simply amazing. Not only did behavior improve, but teachers noticed the students could manage more subject matter at a more challenging level. Students were more alert, focused, and attentive under the new program. The change has become permanent at the school, and they now have experimental “junk food days.” During “junk food days,” nutritious meals are substituted with candy, brownies, chips, and soda. During “junk food days,” students report feeling less happy, more irritable, and have more problems sleeping.

The Appleton, Wisconsin program was simply an observational study. While, the program did not measure changes in test scores or intelligence testing, it did observe major improvements that made a difference in the school. Additional scientific research also confirms the changes seen in Appleton.


Brain cells are like little computer circuits. Electrical impulses in and around the brain cells are the basis of intelligence, memory, mood, and attention. The most critical part of the brain cell is the membrane that transfers these electrical impulses, and they are made of lipids, which are fat molecules.

Different types of fat molecules have different effects on membrane efficiency. Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) tend to be the best type of lipid for cell membranes and make up the majority of the lipids in brain cells. Our body cannot produce these PUFAs — we can only get them through our diet. The two major PUFAs that our body needs are omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs. Omega-6 PUFAs tend to dominate our diet in this country, whereas omega-3 PUFAs are often lacking. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 seems to be the important factor in determining the most efficient membrane functioning. More omega-3 in the membranes improves brain cell functioning. Fish and seafood are the best source of omega-3, but there are other food sources, such as flaxseed.

Studies have shown that children with lower levels of omega-3 PUFAs in their blood tend to have more behavioral, learning, health, and sleep problems than children with higher levels of omega-3. ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) has also been associated with lower levels of omega-3 in children. Furthermore, better reading performance has also been associated with higher omega-3 levels.

While omega-3 and fish oil are important to brain function throughout life, researchers have found that the most important time to ensure proper nutrition is before birth. Prenatal intake of omega-3 by mothers has been correlated with higher I.Q. and cognitive development in their children. Likewise, there is speculation that the studies that showed higher I.Q.’s in breastfed babies may be related to omega-3. Infant formula used to have a lower omega-3 content than breast milk; now formula is being augmented with omega-3 PUFAs.

Omega-3 is crucial during all stages of life because PUFAs can be damaged and destroyed by free radicals. We need omega-3 in our diets throughout our lifetime for proper brain functioning.


If the brain cells are like little computer circuits, then we have to protect them from rusting in the rain. Free radicals, the rain in this metaphor, are created by normal cell functioning throughout the body, and they are constantly trying to oxidize (or rust) our cell membranes and proteins (computer circuits). Antioxidants absorb free radicals and keep our little computer circuits working as they should. Basically, you need omega-3 to keep the electrical impulses moving in the cell, and antioxidants to protect the cell.

Not only do you need the daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, you need plant-based antioxidants found in the SuperFoods. Plant polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavonoids have high antioxidant activity that augments the antioxidant effects of vitamins C and E. Blueberries and pomegranate have the most research showing their beneficial effect on brain aging and memory. And, strawberries and spinach also have been shown to improve brain cell functioning.

Final Word

Want to improve SAT scores — or just be a bit brain smarter? Subtract the processed food, fast food, and soda; add omega-3; and multiply our intake of antioxidant rich SuperFoods. The final sum will be lifelong brain health.

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