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Food for Thought

This common expression has been around since the late 1800’s taking the idea of digestion from the stomach and transferring it to the brain. Having used this expression recently it got me thinking, no pun intended, on the effects of food on our mind and subsequently productivity and performance.

We are all familiar with the daily cycle of peaks and slumps, and although we often attribute them to food – I am hungry or I am too full – we don’t think about why exactly they are happening. Different types of food react differently with our bodies and therefore the type of fuel we put into ourselves will have varying results. Premium fuel equals premium performance! 

What we eat is almost all converted to glucose which in turn provides energy to our brain to keep it alert. When glucose is running low, we become hungry and find it difficult to concentrate and pay attention.  So, we eat! Very often our choice of food at this point is what will give us that much needed burst of energy the quickest – sugary, processed, calorie ridden, high fat – we all know the drill. And yes, they will give an immediate feeling of satiation, but it won’t last. The sugar crash that will inevitably come will make you feel weak, confused, anxious and the high calorie high fat foods will make you feel sluggish and sleepy, all contributing to poor performance and productivity.

The solution

Not allowing your energy levels to dip so low that you are not making informed healthy eating choices. Snacking (yes snacking which I’m quite fond of, my colleagues all know where my hidden goody drawer is, which I have to say does have several healthy options and not just the ubiquitous pack of biscuits), stops you from those big highs and dips and keeps the brain in a constant active, creative and productive state.

Food choices are the key ingredient to better performance with fruit and veg ranking high on the table. Research has shown that eating them throughout the day is great for the mind and the body. The British Journal of Health Psychology carried out a hugely interesting study where participants reported their food consumption, mood, and behaviours over a period of 13 days. Afterwards, researchers examined the way peoples’ food choices influenced their daily experiences. It concluded that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be.

The reason for this is they contain vital nutrients that promote the production of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, and engagement.  Additionally, they provide antioxidants that minimize bodily inflammation, improve memory, and enhance mood.

What action can employers take:

  1. Have a supply of healthy snacks available for employees to eat throughout the day to maintain their energy levels.
  2. Encourage employees to make healthy lunch choices by having posters displayed in the kitchen area.
  3. If you’re buying lunch in have healthy options available and order early before employees are too hungry to make informed choices.

Here are some of the health choices you should be aiming to have in that goody drawer, kitchen cupboard, boardroom table and lunchbox:

Blueberries
These berries have a great combination of antioxidants and a high amount of gallic acid, which can protect our brain from degeneration and oxidative stress and boost our focus and memory.

Almonds

These tasty nuts are rich in healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, and plant protein. They support healthy brain function and prevent cognitive decline.

Whole grains

They will help you stay mentally alert all day long. Eat wholegrain cereals, rice, granary bread.

Pumpkin seeds

The seeds are rich in zinc which is vital for improving memory and thinking skills.

Dark chocolate

This is rich in flavonoids that increase blood flow to the brain. It can boost memory, attention span, and problem-solving skills.

Green tea

This contains theanine that can help you with focus and concentration.

Spinach
These greens contain a lot of antioxidants and can help improve learning capacity.

Broccoli
It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can improve your thinking and boost your focus.

Sunflower seeds

They are considered to be an essential source of fatty acids, proteins, and vitamins and are a great food to fight fatigue and help you stay productive.

Food for thought indeed!!

 

Ingrid O’Sullivan, Operations Manager

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