The Correlations Between Diet and Productivity

How The Right Food Can Fuel Your Mind

Have you ever noticed how some days you feel completely energised after a meal and have an amazingly productive work session, and other days you’re just too lethargic to get anything meaningful done? We tend to dismiss these sort of experiences as purely coincidental and think nothing of the possible correlations between our meals and the sort of situations that directly follow them – ignoring these can be a big mistake.

Without exaggeration, a poor meal choice can very well derail your whole schedule for the day!

It is generally accepted that our dietary choices have significant long term effects on our bodies, but what we don’t often realise is that our diets also have a very real and quantifiable short term impact on our state of mind and productivity levels too.

While most of us have come across phrases such as “healthy body, healthy mind” or “you are what you eat”, when it comes to work and trying to be productive, we are usually more focused on external rather than internal factors. So, fitting a meal into our busy schedules becomes more important than what the meal actually consists of and what it’s really going to do for us.

When we’re desperately trying to keep up with a busy schedule, we often think of food as merely fuel for our bodies to keep going, and not for our minds. This article will show how food can (and should) also function as fuel for your mind that can help improve not only your productivity, but also your performance.

The Science Of It:

Everything you eat is converted into glucose which provides our bodies with energy. While it may seem like a great strategy to bulk up on high energy foods which tend to be high in carbohydrates and simple sugars, this is usually the least smart option for several reasons. Not all foods are processed in the same way by our bodies. Carbohydrates and simple sugars are usually the most accessible and desired options when we’re feeling drained and exhausted, but is this really a great strategy to boosting our productivity?

Put simply, carbohydrates such as pasta, and simple sugars found in soda release their energy quickly and result in bursts of energy highs that quickly transition into severe energy lows with noticeable declines in brain activity. Meals that are high in fats (burgers, fries, etc.), while providing more sustained energy, digest at a much slower rate and require the digestive system to work harder – this reduces the oxygen levels in our brains and this gives us what is often referred to as a “food coma” which is characterised by lethargy and grogginess.

We may intuitively feel the results of our meal choices but it is necessary to consciously be aware of these effects in order to really make a change. While carbohydrates and simple sugars can be great energy sources, short lasting energy sources are all they are – these do not result in effective, sustainable brain fuel.

The Research Behind It:

There have been many studies conducted on the correlations between diet and productivity levels. Here are three representative examples from the wide range of research material available on the topic:

1. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) concluded from an extensive study, that our diet choices have a direct impact on our productivity levels. The author of the study summarised the main findings in this phrase: “Poor meal programs and poor nutrition underlie so many workplace issues: morale, safety, productivity.” Although this study was specific to work places, it is possible to make the same correlation between food and productivity not only at work, but in our everyday activities too.

2. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also stated that when people on the job are adequately nourished, national productivity levels could see a rise of up to 20%! On a small scale, this means that your individual food choices directly impact how productive you are, both at work, as well as in your personal life.

3. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology indicates that the food we eat affects our daily experience of life, and not only has an impact on our bodies, but also on our minds. The conclusion of this study was that the more vegetables and fruits individuals ate, the more creative, engaged and happy they tended to be – and as has been shown in numerous other studies, this in turn significantly affects productivity levels.

The Top 5 Foods That Will Improve Your Productivity Levels

Many of us still fall captive to the assumption that eating healthy means forcing ourselves to consume unappealing, bland-tasting meals – but this does not have to be the case! This list of the top five foods to fuel your brain can be turned into mouthwatering, healthy food options that you will end up craving!

1. Dark Chocolate:
Not to be confused with the more available, commercial milk chocolates, dark chocolate (80% cacao) contains numerous essential minerals and antioxidants that improve the blood flow to the brain. This can be a great snack during working hours, either on its own, or when used as the main ingredient in various healthy dessert options such as this healthy deep dark chocolate biscotti and these dark chocolate brownies.

2. Nuts:
Nuts that contain high levels of ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) and vitamins B6 and E, such as almonds and walnuts, keep our nervous system working as it should, and protect our brain cells from various negative elements; because of this, they help with our memory and keep us focused. You can add a variety of different nuts to this energy ball recipe, and these healthy spiced Spanish almonds can make great snacks.

3. Avocado:
Avocados help to improve the blood flow to your brain (keeping you alert and productive) because of their high content of folate and vitamins K, C and B. This avocado and egg breakfast pizza and avocado and turkey crostini recipes are a great way to introduce avocados into your meal plan!

4. Blueberries:
High in gallic acid, antioxidants, and several essential vitamins and minerals, blueberries help to improve the communication between the neurons in your brain, and therefore help to boost your cognitive functions! Try out this refreshing berry-lime liquado and this delicious traditional blueberry crisp recipe.

5. Fish:
Fatty fish is a classic brain food. With high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acids), fatty fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel are great for improving your brain power and concentration span! These blackened salmon sandwiches, and mackerel burgers can be great for lunches at work!

Along with eating healthy, remember to stay well hydrated throughout the whole day – studies have shown that even the slightest feeling of thirst can result in significant drops in productivity!

Tips On Making The Right Diet Choices:

Often, simply knowing that something isn’t good for us isn’t enough to make us take the plunge into healthy eating. Awareness is important but the real trick to accomplishing healthier eating patterns is making healthy eating the easiest possible option. Here are a couple of research-based ways that you can do this:

1. Do not skip meals:
While skipping a meal in order to finish other work-related tasks may seem productive, it is actually a false economy that can lead to a significant decrease in your productivity levels. If you do not supply your body with the nutrients it needs regularly, you are likely to experience spikes and drops in your glucose/blood sugar levels which hinder any attempts at a stable level of productivity throughout the day. Eating smaller, healthier meals more regularly will not only improve your productivity but can also be easy and quick!

2. Convenient placements:
Easy access to healthier food options is often taken for granted but is incredibly important. If getting a healthy snack will require more effort than getting an unhealthy one, you may be more likely to choose the easier option. Keeping healthy snacks/foods right at your desk, in your line of vision, will help you snack healthily, and more regularly.

3. Think ahead:
It’s probably no secret that hunger can seriously cloud your sense of judgement; making the right decisions on an empty stomach can be difficult. When we find ourselves in desperate need of some food, a healthy, light meal usually won’t cut it; when this happens, we need a high calorie meal and we need it now!

Don’t let yourself get to this stage; plan your meals ahead of time, scheduling them so that you will never have to make food decisions out of severe hunger and desperation. Numerous studies have shown that when we plan ahead, we are more likely to make wiser food decisions than when we act on the spur of the moment.

While our minds direct our lives and lead us on the path to success, our bodies make the physical journey there – therefore we need our bodies to go on that journey in top form, it can make all the difference. It is because of this that taking proper care of our bodies and making intelligent food decisions is not really an option, but an essential element to working well and achieving our goals in life.

Use this article to help you make healthy eating not only the easiest option, but also a favourable one by choosing healthy, and delicious meals – once you get into the pattern of doing this, you will be able to see results in no time!

To your Success!


Kirstin ODonovan

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