When we consider how we perform at work, the food we consume is often the last thing we think about. The never ending struggle to tackle emails, task-lists, and attend virtual meetings is a priority and anything we consume otherwise is just fuel.
There is no one size fits all tool that helps to boost someone’s productivity levels. It is something that springs from individual preference and the general understanding of the things that makes us tick. For some people, a quiet space in the corner of the office can be the best environment for productivity. For someone else, headphones and a coffee may be all that is needed. For the vast majority of people however, there is a proven link between what they consume and their productivity output. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that healthy eating can boost an employees productivity by 20%.
The link between food and productivity
Epictetus – a famous Greek stoic philosopher – made a profound statement nearly 2,000 years ago that ‘all disease starts within the gut’. Although the science is relatively new on the relationship between our gut microbiome (bacteria basically) and how we think and feel, it has been understood for centuries that there is a strong link between what we eat and our brain function. In fact, 90% of our serotonin is produced within the gut and gets released to the brain in what is now intellectually known as the gut-brain axis.
Like any other part of the body, your brain relies on food as an energy source. Not only does it rely on this, despite making up between about 2-3% of the mass of your body, your brain actually consumes around 20% of your daily calories. With such a huge functioning organ taking up so much of the fuel that we put into our body, it is no wonder that eating the wrong foods can be detrimental to how we feel, think, and act.
In fact, there are many studies and laboratories today that believe they can tell more about a person’s level of wellbeing and physical health through a stool sample, than they can in a blood test or any other small scale testing – grim I know. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the success of the company www.viome.com and the things they are trying to achieve at this moment in time.
Eating for Productivity
Sometimes it’s good to first outline what we are doing wrong, before then suggesting the alternative. You wouldn’t be alone if you were to say that a picture of a Big Mac is more enticing than a picture of Broccoli. Nor would you be wrong or alone to say that you’d rather have a plate of chicken and chips over a salad. Unfortunately our brains are designed in such a way that these meals have a much greater impact on the feel-good chemicals we release in the short-term, but offer us little nutritional value in the long-term. (I’ve made a big effort to not include a picture of a cheeseburger here but instead here is an example of a much healthier and tastier alternative for your lunch break)
Processed food is essentially predigested which means that your body takes little time to digest it when it is actually consumed. When you eat a chicken breast, a banana, or a handful of nuts, your body takes a much longer amount of time to break down the food which causes energy to be released in a consistent stream as opposed to all at once. Some foods like bread, cereal, pasta, soda, and refined sugar, release glucose into the body quickly leading to a drastic surge in energy followed by a big slump. This is what is commonly referred to as a sugar rush. Foods with higher levels of bad fats in them such as cheeseburgers and Bacon Sandwiches do provide a more sustained form of energy but apply an enormous tax on the body that reduces oxygen levels in the brain and makes blood flow harder.
When you’re mentally drained, it is much easier to reach for a plate of fried mozzarella sticks or fries than it is to go for something like a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. Your brain is craving an energy boost so looks to utilise the things that provide this the quickest, but the reality is that this affects our sustained energy levels for the rest of the day.
So what is the best way to take action on healthy eating? Numerous articles and pieces of information exist to educate us on making healthier lifestyle choices. There are many foods that are high in good fats which have been proven to boost cognitive function – think avocados, nuts, good olive oils, fish, and dark chocolate – but sometimes it’s working with existing habits that has a much greater impact.
One of the best suggestions we have for making smarter and healthier eating choices is to decide on what you are eating before you get hungry. When you plan your day in the morning, think also about the meals and snacks you want to consume too. If you are going out for a work lunch, think about the places you can go and what foods you might eat there. Studies have demonstrated that our brains are a lot better at saying no to refined sugars and salty calories in the future than they are in the present.
Another top tip from the team at Snackcess is that you’ll perform better by grazing throughout the day than letting your energy levels bottom out around lunch time. Spikes and drops in blood glucose levels are detrimental to productivity as our brains run better on ketones as a fuel source. Smaller, more frequent snacks and meals with a good level of fat content in them can optimise the brain to function well throughout the day.
Finally, our ultimate tip to help you eat for productivity is to make unhealthy snacking a really hard thing to do. Spend some time think about where and when you feel yourself snacking the most. If it’s around 11am and 3pm like the majority of employees, then always make sure to have a supply of healthy snacks and treats nearby. By placing these snacks in your line of vision, your brain has no excuse but to eat the things in front of you. You can place a container of almonds and a selection of fruit by your laptop or on your desk, or feel free to refer us to your manager or employer who can claim one of our free healthy snack boxes to see if it might help you at www.snackcess.co.uk/freetrial.