The Importance of Nutrition for Business Performance
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The Importance of Nutrition for Business Performance

When we think about factors that contribute to productivity, we rarely think about food. However, what we eat affects us more than most of us realize. It has been shown time and again there is a direct impact on our mental and physical performance, which is why poor food choices can limit our ability to function at our best.

Why is this the case? Well just about everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose (sugar) ~ the primary energy source that the brain needs to stay alert. When we’re running low on glucose, we have a tough time remaining focused and our attention drifts. Thus the reason why it’s so difficult to focus when we’re hungry.

Sounds simple right? Now here comes the tricky part. Not all foods are processed by our bodies the same way. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Other high fat meals provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy. Trickier yet… a good choice for one person may be a poor option for another.

For most of us much of this may be intuitive, but we don’t always make smart decisions about what we eat. This is often because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when we finally get a moment to replenish ourselves.  We can be famished and are much more likely to make poor choices, such as pizza, french fries or even cookies. These unhealthy food options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them more alluring and far easier to grab-n-go. This is how and why our food decisions can lead us astray. We save ten minutes now and pay for it with weaker performance later in the day.

So, what are we to do? How do we avoid the temptation of scarfing down chicken nuggets at lunch when they are so delicious. Key is to develop a reasonable and practical action plan then stick to it? Here are some research-based strategies worth trying.

  • Make eating decisions before you get hungry.  If you’re going out to lunch, choose where you’re eating in the morning, not at 12:30 PM. If you’re ordering in, decide what you’re having after a mid-morning snack. Studies show it is easier to resist poor choices in the future than when faced with such decisions in the present.
  • Snack healthy throughout the day. Instead of waiting until your glucose level drops around lunch time, you’ll improve performance by having one or few healthy snacks throughout the day. Swings in blood sugar not only hinder productivity, they are bad for the brain. Smaller, more frequent meals help maintain a steadier glucose level than indulging on a midday feast.
  • Keep good snack choices handy. In lieu of chips or mini doughnuts in your file drawer, better options include a container of almonds and selection of protein bars near your line of vision. Having such options at your fingertips makes healthy snacking easier and automated subscription services, like Graze, help restock supplies.

You are what you eat

While many of us know healthy vs. “not-so healthy” food choices, a little refresher never hurts.  Research indicates that eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day is good for the body and also beneficial for the mind. An interesting paper in the July 2014 British Journal of Health Psychology highlights the extent to which food affects our day-to-day experience.

Within the study, participants reported their food consumption, mood and behaviors over a period of 13 days. Afterwards, researchers examined the way these individuals’ choices influenced their daily experiences. The conclusion was clear: The more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), they reported being  happier, further engaged, and more creative.

Why? The authors offer several theories, among them an insight we routinely overlook when deciding what to eat. Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that foster the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the experience of curiosity, motivation and engagement. They also provide antioxidants that minimize bodily inflammation, improve memory and enhance mood.

This underscores an important point: If you’re serious about achieving top performance in and outside the workplace, making well-informed nutritional decisions is essential.

The good news is that contrary to what many of us assume. The trick to eating right is not learning to resist temptation. It’s making healthy eating the easiest possible option.