Think back to your most productive day last week. Now ask yourself what you had for lunch that day.
When we think about the factors that help us contribute to our work, we hardly consider our food habits. For those of us battling deadlines and meetings, food is nothing but fuel to keep the engine running.
But it turns out that the food we eat affects us far more than we realise. With fuel, you can expect the same performance every time. No matter what brand of unleaded fuel you use on your car, it’ll perform the same way. But, food is different. It has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a bad meal decision at lunch can derail your entire afternoon.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore, nutritionist and health practitioner
How food interacts with your brain
Our body breaks down everything we eat and converts it into glucose, the fuel our brain needs in order to stay alert all day. When our glucose levels are low, we find it hard to focus and our attention keeps drifting. This is why we find it hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
What we rarely consider is that not all foods are processed by our body the exact same way. Foods like pasta, bread and soda release their glucose quickly, giving you a burst of energy followed by an even quicker slump. Other high fat meals like burgers and pizzas provide a more sustained energy. But, it makes your digestive system work harder, which reduces oxygen levels in the brain making you feel groggy.
“The brain works best with 25 grams of glucose circulating in the blood stream – about the amount found in a banana.”
Most of us can agree that we don’t make smart decisions when it comes to our diet. This is partly because we are at our lowest point in energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. When you’re mentally drained, French fries and Cheese sticks will definitely seem a lot more appetising. Not to mention, unhealthy meal options are cheaper and faster when compared to healthier options. This is why we choose an easy lunch during a busy day. We think we are making efficient choices and pay for it with weak performance the entire day.
How to get the most out of food
One thing we know for sure is that information does not motivate us to change. We all know that gobbling up chicken and mutton is not good for our health. But, that doesn’t make fried chicken any less delicious. What we need is awareness – an action plan that will make healthy eating easier. Here’s how you should go about it:
Decide what to eat before you get hungry:
Being hungry and skipping breakfast will ruin your productivity for hours before you get in your first bite. When planning to go out for your lunch, decide what you want to eat after your mid-day snack. Studies show that we resist sugar, calories and fatty foods much better in the future than in the present.
Graze throughout the day:
Don’t let your glucose level bottom out at any point during your day. You will be more productive if you maintain the habit of grazing throughout the day. Sudden spikes and drops in your sugar level is very bad for your productivity as well as for your brain. Smaller, frequent meals help keep your glucose at a steady level rather than having to rely on a feast during lunch.
Make healthy snacking easier:
Make choosing healthier snacks easier by placing a box of almonds or a bunch of protein bars near your computer. Keeping them in your line of sight will ensure that you choose these healthy options for a snack rather than going out for unhealthy ones.
“You are 3 times more likely to eat the first thing you see in your fridge rather than the containers at the end.”
A study with a group of people reporting on their food consumption over a period of 13 days was conducted. The study concluded that people who ate more fruits and vegetables tend to be happier, more engaged and more creative. Fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients that create dopamine, which plays a vital role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, engagement and productivity. They also provide antioxidants that improve memory, mood and minimise inflammation.
“Foods that give your brain the most power are: dark chocolate, fish, nuts, seeds, blueberries, raw carrots, whole grains and avocado.”
The most important point you need to take away is: You need to make more intelligent decisions when it comes to food if you’re serious about achieving top level workplace performance and productivity.