Research has shown that the foods we eat can have a direct effect on how our brain performs physically, emotionally and intellectually. Like a car running efficiently on premium fuel, our mind and body also requires premium fuel in the form of high-quality foods, rich in nutrients. A nutritionally deficient diet, high in saturated fats and refined sugars can have a negative impact on alertness and engagement.
Equally, a diet too low in calories can cause what we call ‘brain fog’. The inability to focus, feeling confused, and being unable to process and relay information easily. Thinking back to a pre-covid time in the office, I’m sure I am not alone when I describe what a lunchbreak may have looked like during a standard week. A quick dash to the local supermarket for a sandwich meal deal, high in saturated fats and salt. Of course, you get the fizzy drink to go with the crisps and sandwich….it’s free so why not? Celebrating Friday with a lunchtime offer at the local Italian or Thai, potentially washed down with a little glass of something… And If you work in an office anything like mine then there was always some sort of highly refined sugary baked good or treat hanging around in the kitchen, catching your eye every time you walked past. Now that I am working from home, like many people at the moment I’m sure, it is interesting to look back and reflect on workplace lunchtime habits.
The above food choices were by no means a daily occurrence but it has made me question how these types of eating habits, and the foods we choose, affect our thought processes and productivity in the remaining hours of the working day. Foods with high carbohydrate, refined sugar and saturated/trans-fat content are going to cause a strain on the digestive system. The body works incredibly hard and focuses most of its attention on breaking down, sorting, excreting and absorbing what it has been given. This digestive strain, along with a quick spike in blood sugar levels, can cause the body to come crashing down into a fatigued state. Of course, in return, the ability to remain motivated and engaged on the task in hand then becomes more difficult.
Now that many of us are currently working from home, it is a perfect opportunity to really think about our lunchtime eating habits. Working from home and quite often in isolation can be hard, I have certainly found this to be the case. It is therefore more important than ever to feed our minds and bodies with high quality fuel in order to keep positive, motivated and sharp! After all, if lunch is roughly a third of our daily fuel intake then we had better make it count! Here are a few points to think about when planning a healthier lunch that will avoid the mid-afternoon dip:
Plan and prepare
Healthy, nutritious meals can be difficult to create last minute, at the exact moment that you feel hungry. Healthy habits require planning and preparation, the more you plan in advance, the more successful your lunches will become. If you decide what to eat at 1pm when you are ready for lunch, it is more likely that you will grab something convenient. White carbohydrates are always a quick last minute lunchtime fix, for example sandwiches and pastas. However, having had their fibre and nutrients stripped, they don’t leave much high -quality goodness for our bodies to absorb.
Choose a rainbow
Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of phytonutrients which give them their colour. These phytonutrients play a unique role in the body and are important for overall wellness, disease prevention and brain health. Not only are they powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory but they can also enhance neuron to neuron communication. The more colour we can get on our plate, the larger the range of phytonutrients that we will be consuming, which will help to create a healthier lunch.
Include a protein, fat and carbohydrate
A well balanced mix of our three macronutrients will release energy slowly and help you to feel fuller for longer, allowing you to continue your working day productively. Be careful when choosing your fat source, these should be free from artificial trans-fats and saturated fats found in foods such as fried food, baked goods, crisps. A great example of a healthier lunch containing all three food groups would be a quinoa salad (complete protein source) with some cubed roasted sweet potato (slow energy releasing carbohydrate) a mixture of chopped vegetables e.g., cucumber, bell pepper, grated carrot, corn (wonderful mix of phytonutrients) and finished with some avocado slices and a drizzle of high-quality olive oil (healthy fats) – perfect powerhouses to continue your working day with energy and engagement.
Taking a look at the time either side of lunch, it is important to consider the snacks that you are providing your body with. It is okay to snack as long as you are not consuming ‘empty calorie’ foods. Your snacks should still be providing your body with some form of nutrients that it can use to its advantage. Avoiding snacks that have a high refined sugar content will help to prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking and then ultimately crashing just as quickly as they went up. Snacks such as mixed nuts, carrots and hummus, red bell pepper and guacamole, apple and peanut butter, fruit, protein balls, are all wonderful choices for that snacking fix. Don’t forget that drinking plenty of water throughout the day is also vital to maintaining energy and concentration levels.
Now more than ever with people trying to adapt to home working alongside their busy personal lives, it is important to try and take quality time out on your lunchbreak. When I say ‘quality time’ I am referring to a full block of time, whether you can afford to take 20, 30, 60 minutes, where you step away from your working space. With work currently imposing on our home lives, this time away to reset is invaluable. Combined with a nutrient rich, healthier lunch, this will set the mind and body up for a more successful and productive final part to the working day.
The quality of our lunchbreaks and the foods that we consume during the working day are of huge importance to the health of our mind and bodies. This is even more apparent in the current Covid climate, as we all adjust to home working and balancing work with our personal lives. Planning our healthy meals in advance, ensuring a quality balance of nutrients and taking valuable time out at lunch are a few small steps that we can take to support a productive working day. Good luck with your healthier lunch!