Wellbeing

What you should eat to get the most out of your brain

Kate Save /

Kate Save

Be Fit Food chief executive officer and co-founder Kate Save. Source: Supplied.

People in the workplace are becoming more aware of the string of health issues associated with a poor diet, but they’re less aware of the enormous impact our diet can have on our performance at work.

The brain uses approximately 20% of our required energy, so it needs a constant source of fuel to function at an optimal level. And while most of what we hear about poor eating relates to consuming in excess, what’s worrying for the Aussie workforce is people are not eating enough of the right things.

A recent study into the habits of Australian workers found one in 10 Aussies skip lunch altogether. It makes sense — when we’re busy and stressed, we sometimes tell ourselves it’s better to skip lunch to just get the work done. But what is actually happening is we’re doing more harm to our performance in the long run.

In fact, a report by the International Labour Organization found poor diet on the job is costing businesses up to 20% in lost productivity. That’s because a lack of nutritious food can lead to fatigue, provoke irritability, decrease energy levels, increase stress and reduce our ability to think clearly and work effectively.

A well-balanced, nutritionally fuelled diet can provide a valuable boost to workplace performance and subsequent long-term success by increasing energy levels, brain power, productivity and focus, and improving how we manage stress.

There are particular nutrients that are important for brain functionality, and if you can pack most of these into your meals throughout the day, you’ll be on track to success.

Protein

Next to water, protein makes up most of the weight of our bodies as our muscles, organs, hair, nails and ligaments are all composed of protein. More than that, protein is essential to the functionality of the brain. Brain cells communicate with each other via neurotransmitters, which are usually made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The right amount of protein at the right times will maximise the bodies opportunities to use this protein to its full potential. The body can effectively absorb approximately 20g of protein every three hours.

Foods rich in protein include eggs, seafood, white meat, poultry, red meat.

Omega-3s

Our brains are made up of 60% fat, so including healthy fats in our diet promotes good brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining proper neuronal structure and function, and have even been proven to improve cognitive behaviour, mental clarity, memory, concentration and focus. There’s also evidence to show omega-3s can improve mood and reduce symptoms associated with mental health issues.

Foods high in omega-3s include soybeans, walnuts, salmon and anchovies.

Low-GI carbohydrates  

Low-carb diets have a fascinating way of providing your brain with energy via a process called ketogenesis. It works like this: your liver produces ketones from fatty acids when glucose and insulin levels are low, and when carb intake falls below 50 grams each day, the liver produces ketones even faster. When carbs are eliminated or minimised, ketones can provide up to 70% of the brain’s energy needs.

Foods include muesli, sweet potato, most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are natural compounds that play an important role in counteracting unstable molecules (free radicals), and the negative effects of oxidative stress which can lead to long-term conditions including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Studies have also shown antioxidants have the power to reverse some of the symptoms of aging, including memory loss. Meaning you can stay sharper, for longer.

Foods rich in antioxidants include leafy greens, berries, nuts and wholegrains.

B-group vitamins

Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid help the brain use glucose to function and are crucial for energy production and release in the body. They also maintain the production of neurotransmitters, which helps to regular our mood. In fact, low levels of B vitamins are believed to be associated with increased stress whereas as high consumption of B-group vitamins has the opposite effect and can be effective in reducing stress levels.

Foods high in B-group vitamins include leafy greens, cheese, eggs, lean red meat, fish, legumes and nuts.

NOW READ: Why employers shouldn’t treat performance management like a fad diet

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Kate Save

Kate is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Be Fit Food.

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