The effect of healthy dietary consumption on executive cognitive functioning in children and adolescents: a systematic review

Br J Nutr. 2016 Sep;116(6):989-1000. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516002877. Epub 2016 Aug 4.


A systematic review was conducted to evaluate whether healthier dietary consumption among children and adolescents impacts executive functioning. PubMed, Education Resources Information Center, PsychINFO and Thomson Reuters' Web of Science databases were searched, and studies of executive functioning among children or adolescents aged 6-18 years, which examined food quality, macronutrients and/or foods, were included. Study quality was also assessed. In all, twenty-one studies met inclusion criteria. Among the twelve studies examining food quality (n 9) or macronutrient intakes (n 4), studies examining longer-term diet (n 6) showed positive associations between healthier overall diet quality and executive functioning, whereas the studies examining the acute impact of diet (n 6) were inconsistent but suggestive of improvements in executive functioning with better food quality. Among the ten studies examining foods, overall, there was a positive association between healthier foods (e.g. whole grains, fish, fruits and/or vegetables) and executive function, whereas less-healthy snack foods, sugar-sweetened beverages and red/processed meats were inversely associated with executive functioning. Taken together, evidence suggests a positive association between healthy dietary consumption and executive functioning. Additional studies examining the effects of healthier food consumption, as well as macronutrients, on executive functioning are warranted. These studies should ideally be conducted in controlled environments and use validated cognitive tests.

Keywords: CPM Coloured Progressive Matrixes; Child and adolescent diet; EF executive functioning; Executive functioning; GI glycaemic index; GL glycaemic load; Healthy dietary patterns; Systematic reviews.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Diet*
  • Executive Function*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans